Author Archives: Brook Lewis

The Perks of Mistakes

I want to tell you about a boy that we call Greg. If you’re a teacher, you’ve likely had a Greg in your class before. He’s the one that fascinates you because he thinks so deeply, is so curious, and seems to already know everything you’re trying to “teach” him. He’s also the one that makes you worry when he asks a question because you may not know the answer. Greg is one of the students that makes it so important to keep learning, and he even helps you learn because those questions you can’t answer cause you to do some research.

But there is another tendency we often see in children like Greg. He was so used to always being right that it made him very uncomfortable to be wrong, or to be put in a situation where he could grow because he hadn’t learned the concept yet. Greg began the year with this frame of mind. If he made what he considered a mistake, he would make up an excuse. For instance, when he did not partition a bar into five equal pieces correctly, he said it was because of his lack of artistic skills, but definitely not because he did not know how. He saw mistakes as something to avoid at all costs and would find any possible excuse so as to not seem like he was ignorant of anything.

The problem this posed as we were working with him was we hoped he would take what happened in his “mistakes,” learn from them, and try again with better accuracy. But what happened is Greg wanted to erase his mistakes and pretend they didn’t happen at all. It became a conversation Greg and I had regularly. Slowly, he began to cherish his mistakes.

The first thing I noticed was that he actually didn’t want to erase what he used to call “mistakes.” Instead, he said he wanted to leave the lines he had drawn that didn’t work “to show his progress” (emphasis mine). I was elated that he used this phrase in place of his old word, “mistake.”

Just last week I heard him make a comment that showed me just how far he has come in the way he thinks. A coworker was having a discussion with him and stated, “you can learn just by thinking sometimes, can’t you!” To this Greg responded, “you can also learn from mistakes!”

A child went from making excuses to justify “mistakes,” to valuing these “mistakes” as a way to make progress. I cannot wait to see what he achieves in his lifetime. I want to learn from Greg and take this way of thinking as seriously as he has.  Tell me about some “mistakes” that have proven to be progress for you in the comments below.


I Almost Missed It

If you read the previous posts from the Coordinating Units team here at AIMS, you likely know that we are studying how children learn about fractions. Earlier this week I realized that I almost missed something amazing and encouraging about how much our students are actually learning. The tasks we are using with them are… Continue Reading

Unintended Opportunity

The team I work with at AIMS has begun working with students on fractional understanding and it has been an interesting couple of weeks. We are seeing the students have opportunities to learn things we never intended but still fit right in with expectations in elementary classrooms. Personally, I have discovered that when we develop… Continue Reading

Put Me in, Coach

Every once in a while, something will happen at work that makes me miss the classroom and the kids that I taught. It’s like a craving at times, but today I feel more like the athlete on the bench that wants a shot at winning the game. Here I am on the sidelines, wanting to… Continue Reading

Coming in Spring

As the Fall semester comes to a close, we are preparing for Spring at our school sites. Next on the list for our team is fractions. I am so excited to begin working with students to understand how they think about fractions and what we as teachers can do to give them opportunities to increase… Continue Reading

Where Are You?

As an instructional coach, I would travel from school to school working with different teachers every week. While I would visit the same sites repeatedly, I would use my navigation system to find them initially. After a couple of months though, I noticed that I still needed directions to get to some of the same… Continue Reading

Taking it to the Classroom

ZAC or Zone of Actual Construction: what the student will be able to accomplish or solve unassisted. ZPC or Zone of Potential Construction: the range determined by the modifications of a concept a student might make in, or as a result of, interactive communication in a mathematical environment. This year we are excited to be… Continue Reading