Teaching toolbox: Creating a constructive “error climate” in the classroom

7 April 2018

This past Tuesday’s LTC lunch discussion focused on how to help students move beyond thinking of mistakes as something to be avoided and instead think of mistakes as an important part of the learning process. The discussion questions included:

  • In the courses you teach, do you explicitly introduce the idea that making mistakes is a valuable part of learning? If so, when and how do you introduce this idea and how do students respond?
  • A 2016 article by Manu Kapur examines learning activities that lead to four different outcomes: productive success, productive failure, unproductive success, and unproductive failure.  What is the balance of activities that are designed to lead to productive success and productive failure in your classroom?  What are the types of activities that you use foster productive failure?
  • A 2015 article by Gabriele Steuer and Markus Dresel identifies eight factors that contribute to the error climate in a classroom. While six of the eight factors can be managed by the instructor (error tolerance by the teacher, irrelevance of errors for assessment, teacher support following errors, absence of negative teacher reactions to error, analysis of errors, and functionality of errors for learning), two factors (absence of negative classmate reactions to error and students taking error risks) are not under the control of the instructor. How do you try to manage negative ​​student responses to mistakes or intellectual risk-taking?

To get a sense of the error climate in your classroom, the Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence offers an error climate inventory for anyone to take.