March 9, 2021

Cultivate a Culture of Error

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This article was originally published on the Teach Like a Champion blog on January 29th, 2021. It has been republished here with permission.

Team TLAC was thrilled to have ace teacher Sadie McCleary of West Guilford HS in Greensboro, NC join us in a video review meeting recently, bringing some footage of her online AP Chemistry classroom for us to watch together. Team member Beth Verrilli shared some observations about the main thing she loved.

We learned so much from all of Sadie’s teaching, but were especially moved by the moments in which she masterfully maintains a Culture of Error in her online classroom. It is one thing to say that there is a Culture of Error in your classroom, but we were struck by the different moves Sadie employs throughout just one lesson to show she believes in it.

In the initial moment, our first clue that Sadie has already established a Culture of Error is:

  • Student Honesty: Ciara is comfortable enough to admit that she is confused. With a warm, positive tone, Sadie says that confusion is OK, and signals her next steps: “I am going to ask you a couple of questions to get there because I know you can get there.”
  • No blame or gotcha, just Sadie reminding her students that they truly do possess the cognitive foundation necessary for success—and that Sadie will stick by them, thinking through the steps together, until the right answer is achieved.

In the next moment, there is no student voice, just Sadie:

  • Noting the rigor of her subject, “I want to name for you right now that finding the Units for K is always the hardest skill of this unit.”
  • Norming the struggle, “If it feels tricky, that makes sense.” Sadie has taken the time before class to identify places where students might falter, and frontloads that information so they can gear up for a challenge.
  • Continuous Practice: reminding students that this is a skill which they will continue to practice, signaling Sadie’s commitment to getting her students to own the rigor and move beyond struggle.

In the last moment of the montage:

  • Appreciation for Risk Taking: Sadie tells Kendall she is “glad” she made an error. In Sadie’s class, it is normal—and necessary—and right to be wrong. Being wrong puts you in a group of people who will also make that common error, because you are still learning. Because errors are how you learn, and why you practice, and necessary for mastery.

Just a note—Sadie’s Culture of Error does not blur the line between right and wrong. The answer IS wrong, and Sadie is clear about it. She is maintaining an environment where students can accept that they are wrong, because they trust Sadie will get them to right.

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