Chapter 2: Acting on the Data and the Culture of Error

indexDoug Lemov consistently refers to a ‘Culture of Error‘ throughout Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹.  The concept is immediately intriguing; as a World Language educator, it is of extreme importance to establish an atmosphere of safe risk-taking, that making mistakes is the norm as language learners, and to efface as much self-consciousness as possible in the classroom.  Speaking a foreign language require bravery; verbally, many students are not inclined to respond in their own language, never mind putting on an accent!

TECHNIQUE 8: Culture of Error:

Culture of Error recommends that teachers establish an environment where in students feel safe making errors; even further, that students are compelled to discuss mistakes and enthusiastically search for solutions.  Imagine a classroom where students address misconceptions instead of simply being told, “No, that’s wrong”.  A lot of inclusive language in a part of creating a Culture of Error, “Let’s find a solution”, “We should look for another way to respond to that question”, etc.  Here are some more example phrases for perpetuating a Culture of Error:

  • “I’m really glad that you made that mistake. It’s going to help me to help you.”
  • “Wrong answers are really helpful because we learn from the mistakes we make.”
  • “Which of these options do you think is my favorite wrong answer?”
  • (After students point out a teacher’s mistake) “Ooh, you all just caught the best mistake I ever made! This is great!
  • “I suspect there’s going to be some disagreement here.”
  • After scanning the room to check which answers studentspicked, say excitedly, “We have a lot of disagreement onthis one!”

Lemov describes the need to have students want to expose their errors; this as a “…shift from defensiveness or denial to openness…” (p.64).¹    Students typically tend to conceal their mistakes instead of willingly sharing their struggles.  Teachers are often motivated to “skim” over student errors or seemingly ‘minor’ misconceptions with the hope that students will eventually “get it” and as a means to save time in class, as the clock is ticking and there is more material to cover.    From Doug Lemov’s blog, ‘Field Notes‘, here is a post from 3/2013, ‘Culture of Error; Leadership Archives‘, 3/13/2013.:

It speaks to the importance of establishing a Culture of Error for not only students, but for all  adults in the building; the importance of a safe,comprehensive, holistic group of professionals that embrace the opportunity to learn and problem solve as a community with out the stigma of being ‘wrong’.  I think, as educators, we often purport to uphold the tenets of provide a SAFE environment within which students can learn; I believe that the precepts behind building a ‘Culture of Error’ adds another supportive layer to this goal.

The practical side of TECHNIQUE 8: Culture of Error is extremely appealing to me as an educator.   The teacher highlighted for this technique, Katie McNickle, elaborates on how she reinforces her Culture of Error on a daily basis by assigning what she refers to as her students’ “Excellence problems”.  Katie McNickle develops a set of questions/problems that are intentionally very challenging with the advanced notion that these challenging questions will present errors and stumbling blocks for most students.  In effect, her students look forward to establishing their mistakes and working collectively to arrive at solutions.  I love this idea!   Katie also asks her students to “Nominate Problems” that they would like to review.  This provides the students an opportunity to identify where challenges lay or which problems that they would like to receive additional instructions.  McNickle’s students quickly nominate and vote on which target questions they will examine as a group; again, embracing and acknowledging potential errors.   As well, the use of collective, inclusive, 1st person plural vocabulary is encouraged in her strategies to promote ‘Culture of Error‘.

Here, in a video through UnCommon Schools, Jason Armstrong, demonstrates how he establishes ‘Culture of Error’.   His initial comment to the class is, “I suspect there’s gonna be some disagreement here”.   Addressing the class as a whole, the teacher lays the ground work for error (potential), normative phrasing, and paves the way for problem solving.

Normalizing error and expecting error and the foundation of what I would not refer to as a technique, but an environment.  A strategy toward more effective instruction.  Safety in the school not only refers to freedom from bodily harm, verbal or cyber bullying and racial discrimination, but can also pertain to intellectual safety.  index‘Praise Risk-Taking’, a component of this technique, is a huge factor in the language learning classroom.  Reinforcing expectations that students will not laugh at one another students’  pronunciation or mistakes is critical toward positive second language acquisition.  I praise, Teach Like Champion 2.0¹ techniques again and again for its overt bodily instruction for educators.  What should the teacher being doing with his or her hands, how should you be standing, which facial expressions are effective?  For example, “When some one is struggling to answer a question, peers (and teachers) “send love,” making a subtle hand gesture that means, “I’m supporting you.”, (p.67)¹.  When a student arrives at the target response, teachers can also initiate congratulations by starting a round of quiet snapping.  Here’s another great video clip from ‘Uncommon Impact’ that highlights educator, Bridget McElduff, as she handles “snickering” in the classroom:


Examining language use by the teacher is of great value when trying to establish a Culture of Error as well.   Statements like, “I shouldn’t be seeing people with x + y as an answer” or “You should know by now…”; these type of statements, seemingly benign, indicate that they are likely to be a source of disappointment.  Instead, educators should focus on re-aligning their responses to student responses in class by communicating the importance of the effort and the opportunities to learn by mistake.  For example; “I’m so glad you made that mistake, now we can discuss x+y” or “This response is going to help us figure out how to solve this question”.  There in creating an opening for seamless redirection or re-teaching.   The goal is not to prompt students to conceal their responses, but rather to engage in problem solving challenges.   Normalize errors; errors are a part of life.


TECHNIQUE 7: Plan for Error

imagesI intentionally posted TECHNIQUE 8: Culture of Error before , as I felt that the environment should be established before the specific strategies come into play.  Plan for Error as a seperate technique has been alluded to within other techniques that I’ve synthesized.  Teachers that are adept at planning in advance, typically plan in advance:  instructional strategies,materials, resources, devices, worksheets, and “down-time”.  What TECHNIQUE 7 suggests is that champion teaching requires that teachers plan in advance which points in the lesson students will encounter questions or misunderstandings.  Lemov points out, “…just writing out the two or three things you think students are likely to struggle with is beneficial to your teaching, whether or not the students actually make the expected errors.”, (p.63)¹.   In doing so, the instructor will be able to respond more effectively to error, and, will be in effect, attempting to include “reteach time” into the lesson.









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