The Best Kind of Mistake

Everyone makes mistakes. As a language teacher, I know this implicitly: kids are always making mistakes with their language. But should I chide them for it? Or gently correct them? Should I be mad about mistakes? Or should I roll with it? I hope that it’s obvious from what I’ve written here that I am absolutely in the latter camp (gently correct and roll with it).

This is how I should treat students and this is how I should treat myself with regard to making mistakes in class, right? I think so. As teachers, it is so easy to be hard on ourselves. It is our responsibility to be the best we can be for the 45 minutes that the 20-30 kids are in our rooms so that they can acquire as much language as possible. At the same time, we are human and we make mistakes, we have off days, we just don’t feel like it some days.

And some days are like last Thursday. I was prepared, I was ready, I was excited for my lesson. My 4th graders were going to read and then complete their first timed writing assignment (40 words, 5 minutes). We have been practicing writing in Spanish to get the hang of it, to learn the skills of editing themselves and staying within the bounds of the high-frequency vocabulary that our class curriculum is based on. I was pumped to see what they could do…

…But then I made copies of the wrong reading story! I copied the past tense version of the story. My kids have only been using the present tense this year. I thought about giving it to them anyway and they would probably have done an ok job, not great. Instead, I had to think on my feet. I looked through my file for 4th grade and saw an old MovieTalk activity that I hadn’t done in about a year. The link worked, so I decided to go for it.

And lo and behold, they LOVED it. It was engaging, the students were responding to my questions in their interlanguage as best they could. I was able to stay in the TL 90+ percent of the time and they were showing understanding of all of it. I was floored. Here was an activity that I hadn’t prepared for or expected to use, but it worked like a charm. They can do their Timed Writing next week!

Sometimes we make mistakes and things go downhill and careen off course and the day is lost. Sometimes, though, we make mistakes and stumble on something that was even better than the awesome things we had planned.

So today I am not kicking myself for making a mistake, I am hoping that more of my mistakes go this well!

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