Encouraging Good Mistakes in English Classes
How can English language teachers create a rigorous, tolerant, and focused classroom atmosphere?
One effective technique is encouraging English students, especially ESL students, to “make good mistakes” as they expand their vocabulary, experiment with new sentence structures, and use English more in their daily lives. A good mistake, as I explain on the first day of class, is a logical error that makes sense, but just happens to be wrong. For example, a young boy might think 2+2= 22. You can see the logic, but the answer is wrong. The student needs to know that 2+2=4. But you can also acknowledge that “22? is a good mistake. Some teachers might consider this mistake a systems error or category confusion.
Far too many ESL students, especially in countries that worship standardized exams, have created psychological barriers to experimenting in English. These students often want to avoid making any mistakes, and prefer to remain silent in conversation class to expanding their verbal skills. The ESL teacher, therefore, has to directly confront this trend or learned behavior. You can’t learn to speak a new language without making mistakes.
So I encourage English students, in both conversation and writing classes, to make good mistakes. Take chances. Try something new. Stretch your learning muscles. And make good mistakes. A good mistake is also a mistake that we acknowledge and learn from and avoid repeating. A good mistake is not a good mistake if you’ve made it ten times before in a class or on previous papers. Students usually understand, relax a bit, and proceed to experiment a bit more in our crazy, confusing, and misspelled English language.
Our goal, I sometimes joke on that first day, is to make many good mistakes, learn from these good mistakes, and move forward to make new, different, and even better good mistakes.” We usually realize this goal in our English classes!
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