Mining for mistakes (& misconceptions)

To build both learning and culture

Yo 👋

What’s up? Today we’re extending our exploration of success and failure by thinking about how we can make the most of mistakes & misconceptions…

Big idea 🍉

One of the most powerful ways we can flip failure is by constantly being on the lookout for when students make mistakes or misconceptions, and when that happens, taking the opportunity to highlight them, analyse them, and ensure that everyone (not just the person who made them) learns from them.

If one person makes a mistake, then it's quite possible that someone else could make that mistake in the future, and so exposing it and ensuring that everyone is aware of it increases the likelihood that no-one makes it in the future.

If we can do this well, then not only do we end up improving learning in the short term, but we create an even stronger culture, which can benefit learning in the long term… because students become more sensitised to errors and more willing to declare them and wrestle with them.

"Making it safe to reveal errors encourages students to strive and struggle."

— Doug Lemov

How can we do this well?

There are (at least) 3 things worth considering:

  1. Seek the permission of the mistake maker... "Oh, this is a classic mistake! Can I share with the class to help others avoid it?" [said with encouragement]

  2. Show it in the original form where possible, either using a visualiser or copying onto the board, and get the class to help spot the error.

  3. De-emphasise the individual... "Check out this classic misconception... let's all make sure we don't get caught out by it in the future."

For mining to work, it's paramount that we create the conditions where student work can be shared with absolute psychological safety... if peers snicker or mock mistakes, we’ll be no longer have students willing to trust us and share their errors.

And so, lay down the law before you mine for error, employ maximum consequences for those who disrespect the bravery of their sharing peers, and ideally.... create a culture where sharing is revered (mini applause anyone?).

Nuance → When dealing with mistakes and misconceptions, it's important that we remain aware of the 'mere exposure effect'. Essentially, we should spend at least as much time talking about the right conception as the wrong one(s).


• Highlighting and analysing common errors can help students learn and create a strong culture.

• This works best when we seek permission from the mistake maker, show the mistake authentically, and de-emphasise the individual.

• For this to work, it's critical that we create a completely safe space for students to share their work.

Challenge → How do you deal with errors in your classroom? Is there anything you could do to make your students even more willing to share?

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The worst mistake you can make is not to learn from it.

Peps 👊