By Ms. Nithya Sundaram
There is a well-known video for educators, known as Austin’s butterfly. It is about a 6-year-old boy, who has to draw a butterfly exactly as in a photograph, stripes, et al. He makes at least four drafts before he gets it perfectly. What made him do it so many times? He is given specific feedback by his peers mostly as to what adjustments he needs to make to the shapes of the wings, the angle and even the sharpness of the tip of the wings. All this is delivered with the focus on the butterfly and not on Austin himself. At no point is he told that they are mistakes. Everybody in the incident wants Austin to make it better.
Cut to a classroom situation and homework situation! Parents react to the student’s notebook/test paper; “So many errors in your notebook! Your teacher hasn’t checked them! I don’t know why I am paying such a high fee for this school!”. When teacher’s reaction in school is written in the notebook; in the form of red circles on erroneous words and answers, red underlines on spelling mistakes and red question marks on grammar mistakes. The parent’s reaction to that notebook is, “Look at the number of mistakes in your notebook! I don’t know what you are learning at your school!”.
This reaction comes forth because all are expecting the student to produce perfect work. There seems to be no room for mistakes. Whereas we have seen that Austin learnt mainly from mistakes. Very often I find secondary students writing in pencil because they do not want to make mistakes. Where did they get that idea, that they should not make mistakes? Instead of telling them how to improve they are told that those are mistakes, directly and indirectly. With that, we have shut down the possibility of any improvement.
The way forward is to help students come up with ways for improving their work through reflection based on feedback. It is possible that an unconnected adult or peer may comment on their work saying it is not perfect. But, if the parental reaction to the same mistakes is positive, then for sure the student will learn to reflect and improve because to them parents are the biggest influence and the most important attachment. And if the school also looks at errors with the same outlook, then the benefit the student gets would be manifold.
From the Journal of a School Administrator – Incident 4
By Ms. Nithya Sundaram