On falling down

I was skiing today, and having a lot of difficulty getting down the hill. My son Jasper was doing his best to help me with advice as I kept picking myself up: “Dad, this is the way you learn; you just keep falling down over and over again until you get the hang of it.”

What do we teachers do to make “falling down” in class OK? What do we do to encourage students to keep at it because falling down is more than just OK, it is the way to learn?

University courses typically have punitive, inhumane systems of grading, which consequently keeps students in a constant state of anxiety, totally counterproductive to learning. High schools are better, but could still improve the way they grade.

Mistakes are essential to learning, particularly in math and science. As John Wheeler used to tell his physics graduate students, “Make as many mistakes as you can, as fast as you can.” And correct them, of course, but the point is to get out there and do it.


About Santo D'Agostino

I have taught mathematics and physics since the mid 1980s. I have also been a textbook writer/editor since then. Currently I am working independently on a number of writing and education projects while teaching physics at my local university. I love math and physics, and love teaching and writing about them. My blog also discusses education, science, environment, etc. https://qedinsight.wordpress.com Further resources, and online tutoring, can be found at my other site http://www.qedinfinity.com
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2 Responses to On falling down

  1. Michael G. says:

    The best we can do is judge the effort rather than the outcome. The attempt is more glorious than the result.

  2. Santo says:

    Hi Michael,

    Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, as I was offline for most of the past 48 hours.

    I’m not in favour of judging effort using numerical grades, but I agree that encouragement is vital for learners, as is clear and effective feedback. But my complaint is that in formal academics we typically grade students numerically, which is convenient for administrative purposes, but is counterproductive to learning. Besides giving a false sense of objectivity, it makes students anxious, and unhealthily fixated on marks to the detriment of learning. It’s quite possible to give effective feedback without grading … consider the late, great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

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