According to an increasing number of experts, attempting to shield children from failure is doing more harm than good. Antonia Chaney, primary numeracy coordinator at Mountain District Christian School in Monbulk, Victoria explains how her school allows students to make mistakes to develop their love of learning.
Teaching children to become resilient learners is an important part of their development, especially in numeracy. The ability to accept mistakes, handle setbacks, adjust appropriately, and keep striving to learn will serve them throughout the rest of their lives; certainly, in numeracy, we see it helping them to learn coping skills and finding solutions to problems.
I liken the concept to a child falling off their bike whilst learning how to cycle. The balance that teachers have to achieve is between developing this resilience while still ensuring they love learning process.
One example of achieving this balance was with a student during the pandemic who stopped using our online numeracy resource; I soon found out from his parents that this was because he was finding the activities too hard. When I checked his progress, he was progressing really well, but his perception was that if he got one question wrong, he was failing.
Being in control
As this student example demonstrates, the important part of developing a child’s resilience is about them feeling they are in control of their learning. But nothing can inspire children more than achieving that eureka or ‘aha!’ moment when a puzzling maths problem is finally solved.
Getting the level right
Obviously, a key part of this ‘control’ involves ensuring that each student is given the numeracy challenges that are correctly aligned to their level of development. There are many digital resources on the market, but we use Mangahigh, because it automatically assesses each student’s level of understanding and matches the questions accordingly. The ‘scaffolding’ approach tracks their progress and sets the questions just slightly harder than their level, so they can work out the answer with one or two attempts. As with the bike analogy, it’s about experiencing mistakes and getting back on their bike. For our teachers this means they can leave the children to work at their own pace, autonomously.
Moving on from mistakes quickly
Context is also essential to resilience. Each child needs to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It is therefore important that the mistakes that they make aren’t major and are quickly replaced with another fun question or challenge.
Don’t jump in to fix things
As all teachers know when a student is struggling it’s not about simply giving them the correct answer. Our resource provides tips and guidance and visual representations, along with the space to find the right solution themselves.
One of the best uses for online numeracy resources is learning the times-tables. As one of those necessary and frustrating evils, many parents consider rote learning to be the only way to learn. We therefore started working with parents to explain our school approach which involves giving them effective strategies to work out times tables, rather than just rote learning.
Once a child has a strategy in mind, they can learn to work out the answer themselves and in future, always apply this to whatever question is set. Building children’s resilience in numeracy is a vital part of learning and something that we are focusing on at Mountain District Christian School. While we don’t yet have measurable data to show any improvement it is clear to all the staff that our work is helping the students to develop a love of learning.