Learning From Mistakes

Albert Einstein quote

A person who has never made any mistakes has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein


Parents often want to know why their children need to start the online reading program, the Reading Kingdom, over when they make mistakes. Their questions often sound like this:

“Why do you make a child start over every time she makes a mistake? Why is the Reading Kingdom set up this way?”

Parents are picking up on one the many features of the program that makes it different from traditional teaching.

In any learning, errors or mistakes are going to happen. There is nothing wrong with this—it is an inevitable part of the learning process. However, there is almost no discussion—in any curriculum or in any teacher training—as to how mistakes should be dealt with. This is a critical omission.

In the absence of clear guidelines, adults rely on their “instincts.” For reasons that are easy to understand, these instincts lead them to try to soften the significance of errors. They know from experience that mistakes are associated with a sense of inadequacy. “If I were smart, I would have been able to do that right.” So it seems only “right” to minimize the errors and get past them as quickly as possible.

This is not the only way, nor is it the best way, to move ahead. For a start, it’s important to differentiate between mistakes that the learner is aware of and mistakes that the learner is not aware of. In the former instance, the learner is clearly actively monitoring his or her behavior and so the motivation to change is strong. That is the sort of situation where the old adage about “learning from our mistakes” holds true. In the Reading Kingdom, we take advantage of this in a variety of ways. For example, when asked to spell a word, there is a star that the child clicks to indicate that the word has been completed. Up to that point, the child can make changes in the spelling.

It is quite another matter when the learner is unaware of a mistake. Then it falls to the adult to bring the error to the child’s attention and get him or her to change the response. What is critical is the “amount of change” that is required.

In spelling, for example, let us suppose that there is an error in one letter (such as “better” being written as “beter”). If the situation is structured so that a child is allowed to add in the single letter, the amount of attention and effort is minimal. Being able to focus on jusr one letter, the child feels no need to attend to the whole word nor to get a clear sense as to how all the letters fit together.

All this changes is the word is “erased” and the child is required to start the word from “scratch.” This can be demanding at first – especially since this is not the general practice children encounter with other material. But within a relatively short time, the children adapt and begin to monitor their behavior much more carefully. In other words, the teaching leads them to become more aware of their behavior and thereby to become much more active participants in the learning process.

If you have found some techniques for helping a child overcome mistakes, please share them with us.

Reading Kingdom

Literacy and reading expert, Dr. Marion Blank



Dr. Marion Blank, creator and founder of the Reading Kingdom online reading program is answering your questions about reading and learning. To leave a question for Dr. Marion, visit the Reading Kingdom Facebook Page and let us know how we can help.