Do We Learn Most of All By Our Mistakes?

I’m a pretty good cook. People say so, anyway.

Do I have a natural aptitude for cooking? Maybe. Did I have good teachers? Perhaps. But, most of all, I was allowed to be curious and learn from my mistakes.

Like the time in junior high when our little kitchen group in cooking class turned up the oven to 450°F degrees to hurry the banana bread along. Earlier, when Mrs. Gies had told us we would have to bake it one day, and eat it the next day, we thought she was wrong. I suppose we were disappointed and suspicious enough to go against her directives. We cranked up the oven (Marlene was the instigator), and the bread raised and browned. It was a beautiful, perfect banana bread, beckoning us to eat it. Ha, we said to our teacher (under our breaths, of course). She was so cautious, and for nothing.

We set the table, poured the drinks, and placed our beautiful banana bread in the center of the table. We knew we were the envy of all the other expectant cooks in the surrounding seventh grade foods class kitchens.

However, when we sliced it, the raw goo, along with any vestige of our cooking cockiness, ran out onto the cutting board. I don’t believe Mrs. Gies “punished” us for going against her instructions. She was a wise woman who knew we learned more from our ruined banana bread than any scolding she could give us.

Another learning experience came the first time I tried to make a favorite family recipe. It was a disaster. The recipe was called Hamburger Pie. I missed a key instruction: brown the hamburger. Yes, I used raw hamburger in this recipe, and it was inedible when it finished baking. Because my older sister patiently explained to me what went wrong and helped me recook the filling so the ingredients weren’t wasted, I was able to learn from my mistakes.

I could go on and on about the mistakes I’ve made in the kitchen–uncleaned shrimp, egg whites that don’t whip in a blender, etc. etc. I am quite sure I have learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

I need to remember this in the classroom. I believe in student-centered learning, lifelong learning, student choice. I believe in STEM education, genius hour, and everything that would say YES to letting students be curious, get dirty, and make mistakes. I have to remember how powerful this kind of learning is.

I hope you are giving your students room to make mistakes!

How have you learned from your mistakes?

11 thoughts on “Do We Learn Most of All By Our Mistakes?

  1. Denise,

    This is a great post…made me smile, for I too, have made raw banana bread! (And I have also learned not to over mix the batter as it will explode in the oven)

    I am going to share this blog with my students because we were just talking about learning from our mistakes!

  2. Gallit,
    Thanks for reading and sharing it with your class. I recently made this connection while I was cooking something. I remembered how I learn best, and it challenged me to make sure I allow my students the opportunity to take risks and make mistakes too. Like Ms. Frizzle always said: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”


  3. Denise,
    What a wonderful post! I have many memories of my mom and my teachers telling me how to do something and of course I thought I knew better. In each case, I had to own up to my mistakes and find a way to correct them. Many times, I feel adults rush in and save children from making mistakes and the opportunity for thinking things through is lost. These are life lessons that are so important and are a necessary part of living.

  4. JoAnn,
    So true! Why do we rush in to save children? Are we afraid of the mess they might make? Or are we trying to save them from disappointment? As you say, when we do, the opportunity for thinking things through is lost. I know if my teacher and my sister would have caught my mistakes and fixed them before I messed up, I would not have those memories today. I would probably have different stories from later in life where I had to make mistakes to learn.

    In addition, sometimes as a teacher I am in such a hurry, I am tempted to take the tool, the bottle, the mouse, or whatever from the student and just show them how to do it, instead of letting them experiment a bit. Then patiently explaining and having them try it again. I need to allow them to have practice and make mistakes. A little frustration on their part can go a long way in teaching them the next step of the process.

    Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, JoAnn!

  5. Hi Denise,
    “Make mistakes and get messy” was a motto of Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series. Like you, I believe that by making those mistakes, being allowed to make those mistakes allows for true learning.

    In class, I own up to my mistakes by saying “well, that’s the FIRST mistake I’ve made all year,” which inevitably brings a great chuckle from the class. Of course, I will then go on to share how we learn best from our mistakes.

    It is true that we rush in to help our students (or own children) try to avoid those pitfalls when we know how important it is best to learn by doing – which involves trial and error sometimes. I am thinking of today’s math lesson – I rushed it – and in the end gave out a helpful hint too soon, instead of letting the kids toil on the problem a bit longer.

    It’s okay to “get messy and make mistakes” especially when cooking…trying new recipes is such a classic example as you just never know how things will turn out in the end.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Nancy,
    What a nice comment from my friend! I smiled imagining you and your fourth graders laughing about your FIRST mistake of the school year. So cute!

    I can picture the rushed math lesson, too. I believe rushing is the biggest issue in my classroom. There is always too much on my agenda, so I don’t always let students “toil on the problem a bit longer.” I like the way you worded that! Toiling on meaningful problems is a great use of time! 🙂

    Thanks, Nancy!

  7. Ms Krebs,
    I agree that we learn from making mistakes. I liked how you used the examples of mistakes made while learning to cook… lol… Boy, do we all have stories to tell.
    My question to you is, How do you make an assessment of the finished product? Do you
    assess the path of getting to the end (following the instructions) or only the finished product itself?

    Cynthia Arrington
    EDM 310/ Dr Strange
    University of South Alabama

    1. Oh, Cynthia,
      You have asked the million dollar question! I believe in assessment for learning. Students should be assessed only on whether they learn the material–not how quickly or with how much enthusiasm. It really doesn’t matter that they make mistakes along the way. I think we should grade “yes” or “not yet.”

      Standards based assessment is a growing controversy in high school education now, but for younger students, we can more easily get away with it. Here is a great blog to check out for how he is implementing SBAR (Standards Based Assessment and Reporting) by Shawn Cornally.
      Table of Contents of some of this posts:
      Thanks for asking! Good questions to grapple with!

  8. Ms Krebs,
    I really enjoyed this post, and I must say it was hilarious. I liked the fact that you shared some of your mistakes. This post reminded me of a you tube video by Ken Robinson. In the video he was saying how education systems really discourage mistakes. I must say that I have learned from many of my mistakes as well. I believe that by making mistakes and acknowledging them it helps us to grow.

    Jamie Cunningham
    EDM 310 Summer / Dr. Strange
    University of South Alabama

    1. Jamie,
      Thank you for the visit. I have been away for a while and not paying attention to my blog, so I missed your first comment. I suppose your summer class is drawing to a close. I think Dr. Strange offers a great class to get you ready for participating in the 21st century educational setting! I love that we can collaborate and communicate with people all over the world now. Best wishes to you in your future as a teacher!

      Denise Krebs

      1. Thanks so much for responding. I corrected it and now the link is working. 😉 I am trying to get the hang of this. My instructor told us not to expect to get a response back, but I am glad I did. 😉

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