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Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn

by Eduardo Briceño This article was first published in the Mindset Works newsletter. We can deepen our own and our students’ understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability to manage and learn from mistakes is not fixed. We can improve it. Here are two quotes about mistakes that I like and use, but that can also lead to confusion if we don’t further clarify what we mean: “A life spent making mistakes is not only most honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing” – George Bernard Shaw “It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.” – Maria Montessori These constructive quotes communicate that mistakes are desirable, which is a positive message and part of what we want students to learn. An appreciation of mistakes helps us overcome our fear of making them, enabling us to take risks. But we also want students to understand what kinds of mistakes are most useful and how to most learn from them. Types of mistakes The stretch mistakes Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities. We’re not trying to make these mistakes in that we’re not trying to do something incorrectly, but instead, we’re trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors. Stretch mistakes are positive. If we never made stretch mistakes, it would mean that we never truly challenged ourselves to learn new knowledge or skills. Sometimes when we’re stuck making and repeating the same stretch mistake, the issue may be that we’re mindlessly going through the motions, rather than truly focusing on improving our abilities. Other times the root cause may be that our approach to learning is ineffective and we should try a different strategy to learn that new skill. Or it may be that what we’re trying is too far beyond what we already know, and we’re not yet ready to master that level of challenge. It is not a problem to test our boundaries and rate of growth, exploring how far and quickly we can progress. But if we feel stuck, one thing we can do is adjust the task, decreasing the level of challenge but still keeping it beyond what we already know. Our zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the zone slightly beyond what we already can do without help, which is a fruitful level of challenge for learning. We want to make stretch mistakes! We want to do so not by trying to do things incorrectly, but by trying to do things that are challenging. When we make stretch mistakes we want to reflect, identify what we can learn, and then adjust our approach to practice, until we master the new level of ability. Then we want to identify a new area of challenge and...
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New English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC)

The California Department of Education (CDE) has posted the new English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) Web site. In preparing for the transition from the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to the ELPAC in 2018, the ELPAC Web site has been developed and posted here to provide you with new and updated resources and information. Be sure to visit the ELPAC Web site frequently at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ep/ to get information about the status of ELPAC development and administration. In spring 2016, the ELPAC contractor, Educational Testing Service (ETS) will launch the ELPAC.org Web site. Information will be posted about upcoming opportunities to par...
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