3 Ways Building Mistake Tolerance Increase Student Growth Mindset

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3 Ways Building Mistake Tolerance

Carl Slater, author of Nurturing Mistake Tolerance in the Classroom article, suggests 3 ways to build mistake tolerance in the classroom by:

  1. Use Jigsaw Activities
  2. Guide students to Get the GIST
  3. Actively Model Critical Thinking

Slater points out that “Teachers can help students get over the fear of making a mistake by showing them that errors are just a part of the learning process.” Students do not like making mistakes in front of their peers. Same goes for the adults. Slater mentions this dislike leads to an avoidance of failure to preserve self-identity and efficacy. Slater defines it as “fear branding” which is the perception of being outed by one’s community as incompetent.

Slater emphasizes this fear can lead down trauma spiral of internalized inadequacies, classroom disruptions, and other barriers undermining their confidence as learners. As a result outlook can last a lifetime, limiting individuals’ horizons and opportunities. Students who already faced stereotypes about their educational capacity may face more pronounced effects.

One of the goals of educators is to teach students what to do when they don’t know what to do. Slater explains that practitioners see real value in putting knowledge into action. Practitioners believe to get past the problems brought up in knowledge, teachers need to use practice-based lessons that help students learn how to solve problems.

Slater refers to learning is messy. The trial and error doesn’t always go in the right direction (for example, starting and stopping, pausing, being confused, writing and revising), requires a mistake tolerance must be nurtured in the classroom. Students need to learn how to accept mistakes in the classroom. As a student’s patience grows, they not only accept that making mistakes is a normal part of learning, but they also see the value in them. This helps them become expert learners.

Slater suggests 3 ways to grow mistake tolerance in students:

  1. Use jigsaw activities. These activities break up complex text into smaller, disjointed chunks that students work collaboratively to piece together, creating coherence and meaning. Arranging ideas and/or events chronologically, logically, or sequentially requires a grit for trial and error that expert learners sometimes take for granted. Jigsaw activities create opportunities for students to gain confidence by justifying their ordering by experimentation, negotiating text meaning, and identifying target language.

First, I introduce this activity to students using comic strips. Students practice shuffling comic strip panels in the correct order by identifying key story elements (e.g. plot, setting, characters, point of view, theme). I then increase the rigor by tasking students to correctly sequence reading passage sections, using the same story-element identification.

This tactile approach to text engagement mirrors that of puzzling. Like puzzles, the comic strip panels or text sections within the jigsaw activity are in pieces that must be assembled properly. Manipulating the puzzle parts and figuring out where they fit within the larger picture requires problem-solving perseverance as students develop their abilities to plan and test ideas. From a social and emotional standpoint, completing jigsaw activities also helps students learn how to accept challenges, overcome problems, and deal with the frustrations of failure.

2. Guide students to get the GIST. These activities are summarizing exercises that help students focus on main ideas. Developed by James Cunningham, PhD, in 1982, GIST (Generating Interactions between Schemata and Texts) helps students improve reading comprehension and increase recall of complex texts. As the name suggests, GIST scaffolds the removal of extraneous detail as students evaluate and create information to convey the crux of what they read. It’s an adaptable strategy that can be used with many informational and literary texts and is an effective tool to use in content areas.

Students read a text and respond to the six common journalists’ questions on the GIST template (who, what, when, where, why, and how). Using their responses, students identify the most important information by paring down the text into summaries of 20 words or less (the teacher predefines the GIST word count).

As students work to comply with the word constraint, you will notice the messiness of trial and error as students change their summaries to fit the predefined parameter. Students build mistake tolerance in low-stakes routines using various combinations of elaborative rehearsal, reorganization, and contextualized language.

3. Actively model critical thinking. To create a classroom culture open to mistakes, teachers must not only embrace them among students, but also actively model their own tolerance for mistakes. We should want our students to see that we, too, wrestle with getting ideas down on paper. Follow a plan to ensure you’re modeling the thinking you intended. Stay in character as a learner, not a teacher.

For example, imagine that you’re working through a text or a task for the first time. Model the thinking you expect from the students. Like a good learner, ask yourself questions, and verbalize inner dialogue.

What is the author trying to tell me? Is that a clue about what’s going to happen next? What happens next if I do this? Is this getting me closer to my goal?

Narrate actions you’re about to do, such as “I’d better write that down” or “That didn’t work. I’d better erase that step and start over.” Let students see and hear you struggle with your thinking. Students also need to see the strategies that good learners use to overcome challenges. It’s important for them to see that all learners encounter challenges and that it’s OK. So not only verbalize struggle but model the metacognitive and critical-thinking strategies that good learners use for overcoming challenges. Try modeling perseverance by building in some unsuccessful attempts and giving yourself a little pep talk after each one.


Slater describes learning is an ongoing process that includes practicing, making changes, and improving. The process of trial and error can be fun to learn if students are given the right tools and knowledge at the start. Experience, which usually means learning the right way to do something by making mistakes along the way, is what makes us learn. It’s also one of the main reasons experienced learners are motivated.