Three ways to celebrate mistakes in class


  • Create the norm that you love and want mistakes.
  • Don't just praise mistakes - explain why they are important.
  • Give work that encourages mistakes.
  • Math teachers: To see similar videos specific to growth mindset in math class, sign up for Professor Jo Boaler’s course, How to Learn Math, and check out

Jo Boaler, Math Education Expert, Stanford University: So if you're a teacher, start classes with a norm that you love and want mistakes, and don't just say, “I love mistakes. Mistakes are good. We love mistakes,” but give students time. And when they make a mistake, ask them to present it for everybody to see it.

One of the best teachers that I've ever worked with regularly did that with students. I saw her right at the beginning of the year say to one of her students, “Oh, would you go and present that on the board?” and he said, “But I got it wrong,” and then she explained, “You know, it's really great for us to see mistakes because the ones students made, others will have, too, and we can all learn.”

The student said, “Oh, okay,” and got up and showed it. After that and other messages from the teacher, students became really willing to take risks and to make mistakes publicly. When I have tutored people in math, I've always started by saying, “By the way, I just want you to know that I love mistakes the most. They're the time when your brain grows, when you really learn. So it's really great to make mistakes.” People immediately relax and breathe a sigh of relief and are much more willing to jump into problems and persist longer.

So the second advice is, “Don't just praise mistakes, but talk about why they're important.” Maybe at the start of the year or at other times, talk to students about brain growth.

The third point is to give work that encourages mistakes. If students aren't making mistakes in their math work, they're not doing work at the right level for them. So try and always push the boundaries. Keep them at the edge of their understanding at all times. This may require talking to them about what's most helpful for them.

For example, you can tell students that when they get a question right, that's not really producing, and if you're getting all questions right, you're probably not doing work that's challenging enough. And, as Carol has said, students are missing out if they're not getting the chance to make mistakes.

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