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longgone's avatar

Why do we believe that mistakes are the best teachers?

Asked by longgone (17103points) July 19th, 2015

Or do we? Do you?

I, personally, don’t believe setting people or animals up is helpful. I find they actually practise their mistakes, and the repetition often creates a very much ingrained behaviour. I especially see this with my English students: They are asked to produce English texts often, and invariably make a lot of mistakes. Sentence structure, in particular, is a hot topic. I find that having them read well-written articles and stories works so much better – exposing them to English which is real English very much speeds their progress up.

Why do we still concentrate on all the mistakes children make? Why not mark the sentences which are perfect, so these will get noticed and cemented? Is there any proof that learning from one’s mistakes is preferable to learning from success?

If you’d rather answer from an animal training perspective, that’s fine. I see the exact same patterns in dog training.

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13 Answers

filmfann's avatar

I have helped train at least 100 technicians at work, and I would tell them all not to hold the scope after loosening the top. I stressed it. All of them ignored or forgot, and held the scope after loosening the top. The top dropped, and cut and pinched the skin between their thumb and finger, which hurts like hell.
They then always remembered.

longgone's avatar

^ That’s a good reply, but it answers a different question – it’s proof that personal experience will drive home a lesson faster than being told what to do will. I agree with that!

josie's avatar

The thing about your question that makes it tough to answer is your use of the word best.

Mistakes are certainly indicators of a bad choice of action. Early mistakes are sort of metaphysical. They have a tendency to be more “immediate” because, at least for children, they tend to have a readily apparent consequence that is painful or scary.

Success for a child is more abstract. Good choices unless they involve avoidance of metaphysical crisis or emergency usually take a little more time to become apparent. Children often do not understand success unless a third party reveals it to them.
But unless it is placed in contrast to mistakes, it has no particular meaning.
Pleasure would have little meaning to someone who had never experienced pain as an alternative.

Training dogs and other animals is a slightly different principle. They do not even know what the concept mistake and success is and they never will. Conceptualization, if it exists at all in some animals, is rudimentary at best and impossible to prove anyway since they can not speak or write. All you can do is provide positive reinforcement for the behavior that YOU want, and negative for the behavior you do NOT want.

Khajuria9's avatar

Its psychological.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’m with @longgone – it’s the difference between experiental learning and book learning. (See the literature on how to teach and how to learn).

Theory is fine and dandy, but doing something wrong drives the lesson home.

Coloma's avatar

Well, clearly after years of continually forgetting to turn off the electric wire around my flowerbed and repeatedly getting zapped in the damp armpit reaching over to pick flowers in the morning and flinging my coffee across the yard I have not learned from my mistakes. lol

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Coloma – even Pavlov wasn’t correct all the time.

Pachy's avatar

One size does not fit all—human beings learn in different ways.

JLeslie's avatar

It depends on the thing. With language I think it’s best to see and hear what is correct. I helped 4th graders at the bottom of the class in reading and spelling and all of them improved. I helped them do the work in their workbooks and if they really struggled I gave them the answers. They never took advantage of that and they all improved on their test taking. A couple of them went up two letter grades. I think writing out what was correct helped them learn what was correct.

I also don’t like letting children get hurt to learn, but inevitable kids do fall down or get burned or get pinched and they learn the hard way, and that way really works. They will not touch the hot stove again.

In life we all make mistakes and learning how to overcome mistakes and move forward is extremely important.

bossob's avatar

When it comes to many physical activities, we learn by trying, making mistakes, and then fixing them. Faster progress and higher skill levels are attained when there is a teacher providing constructive feedback. The teacher praises what is done correctly, but focuses on mistakes that need to be fixed.

Skating students may learn a few things about how to do a double axel by viewing a video of a perfectly executed one, but important details go unnoticed. They may learn a few things by watching themselves execute a double axel on video, then attempting to fix their mistakes, but again there are details that go unnoticed. Nearly all athletes at the highest levels, have coaches or trainers providing feedback in order to point out and help fix the mistakes that the athlete is making.

In short, we learn how to do something by learning how not to do them incorrectly.

Blackberry's avatar

It just really depends on the situation. Some mistakes will hurt too much or be too costly, but in general yea you need real life experience to learn.

Unbroken's avatar

While mistakes should not be intentional I think celebrating or learning from our mistakes is not only good and healthy but vital. I think we live in a culture where making mistakes is less forgivable and that makes us risk adverse. So we have trouble standing out or pursuing big dreams or just enjoying life.

On the other hand where applicable most people respond well to positive reinforcement. I think this should be applied where it can be. I am glad you found a method of teaching students that promotes more positive results then the previous method and that should be applied and it would be great if you could influence others to do the same.

wsxwh111's avatar

I go with mistakes, too.
Besides, I think real life is more complicated than that. At most time there are no “perfection”, but only “opinions”, and not all of one’s opinions work on another person, he has to figure out what’s best for himself eventually.

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