Subscribe to The Horn Book

Learning from mistakes

My second graders, like most kids, hate making mistakes. Often, when students begin the year with me, they see mistakes as something bad and rarely seem more embarrassed than when they make mistakes in class. Throughout the course of the year, I ask my students to work on honing a growth mindset and try to encourage them to see mistakes as opportunities for learning, rather than irreparable aberrations. Each week, I recognize students who have made Great Mistakes in an attempt to normalize and celebrate the bumps that inevitably happen as we try to master something new. In addition to championing smart mistakes, I also use and later revisit a number of picture books that emphasize the mistake- and challenge-filled reality of the learning process.

beautiful oopsBeautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
This small book never fails to leave my students feeling inspired about the possibilities mistakes can offer us. The beautiful illustrations and clever construction of Beautiful Oops showcase the potential hidden in a ripped paper, dribbles of paint, stains, and holes. The book concludes with a powerful message that resonates with my young students: “When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”

stuckStuck by Oliver Jeffers
Stuck is a multipurpose book in my character lessons — it can be used to highlight creativity, determination, and the mistakes that we can make as we try to reach our goals. In this simple but effective narrative, Floyd tries a variety of strategies to retrieve his stuck kite from a tree…a process that leads to lots of mistakes on the way to an eye-of-the-beholder success.

Mr FalkerThank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
This autobiographical tale chronicles the struggles of a young girl named Trisha as she tries to learn how to read. Polacco’s rendering of the frustrations of feeling different and the embarrassment of being teased ring true and show that it is not always easy to keep trying when something is challenging.

everyone ride bicycleEveryone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka
Raschka’s book, ideal for young students, illustrates the process and pitfalls of learning how to ride a bike. This simple story makes it explicit that everyone had to learn how to ride a bike and that it takes extensive practice to master this skill. My students and I follow up our reading of this book by discussing whether everyone can actually learn to ride a bike and then considering how it can take different amounts of time, effort, and modification for people to master skills.

dotThe Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
The Dot and Ish both tackle the insecurities that can arise when we fail to instantaneously master skills and don’t meet our own expectations for perfection. In both tales, young artists experience frustration or uncertainty about their skills that hinders their abilities to develop potential talents. These books always lead to lively follow-up conversations about how fear of failing can prevent us from trying, and thus, from learning and improving.


Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind