Give work that encourages mistakes: See it in action


  • In this video from, we see a second grade teacher:
    • Give students a challenging problem to work on.
    • Talk about and normalize struggle so students understand that it’s an important part of the learning process.
    • Encourage students to ask for advice when they’re stuck and to articulate their thinking process.
    • Make use of wait time to allow students the space to think and grapple with the problem.
    • Reflect on the learning experience and explicitly frame struggle as a part of the learning process.
  • This video is part of a two-part growth mindset series made by PERTS and Teaching Channel. Learn more about the series and view the videos on here. View the other video on the Mindset Kit, Praising the process: See it in action.
  • View another video of this teacher in the practice library.

Today we will work harder to get smarter.

Maricela Montoy-Wilson, Second Grade Teacher, East Palo Alto Charter School, East Palo Alto, CA: Growth mindset means believing that your brain has the capacity to growth. My job as a teacher is to teach my students strategies to help them grow their brains.

“Oh, my goodness, way to be so precise and clear.”

“Are we taking like 2, 1, or 8?”


In life, students are going to need to pursue problems, and they're going to need to be developed as problem solvers who know how to encounter a challenge and work through it to persevere to solve it.

“How many star stickers does Sally have then?”

“Scholars, remind our brains how we solve this. Turn and tell your partner, 'I solve this problem by.'”

In math, in particular, I'm much more concerned with their ability to make sense of a problem and persevere in solving it than I am in them getting the right answer.

“How many more do I need to take away?”


“Eight. How do you know?”

“Because it says right there.”


Today's lesson was a numbers sense lesson, and students were tasked with subtracting three digit numbers and story problems.

“Mathematicians, that problem felt especially challenging, didn't it?”


One thing you saw in my class today was my students encountering a challenging problem and really embrace it and get excited.

“What felt challenging about that? Linda?”

“I got stuck on the thirty part.”

I almost normalize that everyone is going to feel stuck. Everyone is going to feel challenged by it so that they can get excited and think about the strategies they can implement to tackle the problem.

“What can you do when you're feeling stuck?”

“Can I have some help? I'm feeling stuck about taking away two more tens.”

“Way to be specific, Brenda, about how to get help.”


“I took a jump of two and that got me to 200...”

Justifying and critiquing is one of the most critical components I can give my students to enable their ability to pursue a challenge.

“I solved that problem by doing the sticker notation.”

That means they're explaining their thinking with reasoning and evidence, and they're asking others to explain their thinking as well to better understand.

“I figured it out by doing one strip.”

“What do you mean, one strip?”

When we are tasked with the ability to express ourselves, particularly our thinking, it really illuminates our understanding or misunderstanding.

“Can you explain more of that?”

So when we're asking students to justify their thinking, explain their thinking, sometimes you can see that there are some gaps or some holes.

“So that makes two.”


“502? I think you're trying to say 522.”

When you invite that into a classroom setting, you're allowing for feedback from other scholars to engage in that thinking, whether they're understanding or misunderstanding it.

“Isabella, why do you disagree with me?”

“I disagree with you because we should do our strategy like adding up.”

I think it really raises the level of rigor in the classroom when students can understand their processing and can also question and understand others.

“Christian and Sadai[?] were having kind of a heated discussion about the most efficient strategy to use to solve this problem. Go ahead, Christian.”

“I took a jump of sixty.”

“My strategy was.”

“Adding up the two questions that I—“

“Why didn't you take a jump that will make a friendly number?”

“You know that 60 + 1 = 61.”

“I just want to pause and reflect on what's going on here. Already two people have shared out the same strategy, but they did it in a different way. Is there another way you can use the tool?”

One of the ways I feel like I've made a challenge feel exciting is even just through the strategy wait time.

“Are these worth the same as this?”

When I see a student struggling, I really zero in on that, and I capitalize on it. I say, “Oh, my goodness, I can really see the wheels in your brain spinning.”

“What tool would help me solve this problem? Is a linking cube the right tool?”


“So, think. What may be a better tool to use?”

“Hundreds, tens, and ones.”

“Hundreds, tens, and ones. Justify.”

“Because they all have three digit numbers.”

“There's two ones. So I think that's 522.”

“We haven't even found the answer yet, have we?”


“How are you feeling?”


“Even though you haven't found the answer?”



“Because I'm working so hard.”

“Friends, I'm going to have to stop you. We ran out of time. You were doing so much thinking.”

“Mathematicians, I saw groups talking about different problems. At the green table, we haven't even solved the first problem. But you know what? They looked so happy. Can you tell the class about it?”

“We didn't know how to figure it out, but when it was time to go to lunch, we didn't quit. We were happy because we were growing our brain.”

“Those of you at your desk, give a nod if that feels like what you are feeling right now.”

This process is probably one of the most exciting things I find about being a teacher.

“She's saying, 'Me, too!'”

Seeing my students struggle and encounter a challenge and embrace it is something that leaves me with great peace of mind because I know when they leave my classroom, they'll continue to have that growth mindset. They'll carry it on with them as they undoubtedly experience new challenges in life.

“Taking charge of my own learning.”

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