Abigail Klein Leichman
August 29, 2023

Israel’s startup culture is renowned for accepting failure and leveraging its lessons for future success. 

The Center for Excellence in Teaching at Gordon College of Education in Haifa has leveraged that culture in its training for mistake-based learning (MBL). 

A classroom where teachers and kids have fun, and succeed
An interactive sand table lets kids experience geography, topology and climatology with all their senses. Photo courtesy of Gordon College
When I was in fourth grade, a classmate brought in “X-ray glasses” he’d obviously gotten out of a cereal box. Peering through the plastic lenses, he claimed he could see our teacher’s skeleton. Yeah, right. But he was only a few decades ahead of his time. Thanks to the magic of augmented reality, kids can now point a tablet at a special t-shirt won by their teacher to view the location and function of her heart, liver, bones, circulatory system and other organs. I saw this for myself during a tour of the digitized, gamified innovation centers for teaching and learning at Gordon College of Education in Haifa. Prof. Rhonda Berger Sofer, director of the college’s International Center, wriggled into the AR-enabled t-shirt and suddenly I was seeing an anatomy lesson my fourth-grade classmate could never have imagined.
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“If until today we saw mistakes as a negative element in learning, in the new concept we teach educators and students to embrace the mistake and build success,” says Yossi Bar, head of the Center for Excellence in Teaching.

“Our Center for Learning from Mistakes promotes a culture where instructors and students feel comfortable sharing their mistakes and learning from them, instead of hiding them,” he says.

“We see a mistake as a natural course of learning and not a mistake that causes shame and frustration,” Bar tells ISRAEL21c. 

“For example, in the new method we give a bonus for mistakes under certain conditions. Teachers do not correct mistakes but rather investigate mistakes with the participation of the class.”

Errors vs. mistakes

Bar emphasizes that errors are corrected, but not mistakes. What is the difference between a mistake and an error?

Errors, he says, happen when pupils know the correct moves to make but choose wrong moves out of distraction, carelessness or lack of concentration. Mistakes come from not knowing the correct way in advance and choosing a wrong move in pursuit of understanding the correct one.

“Adopting the new method in teaching and learning helps students avoid repeating mistakes, deepen learning, develop a learning culture based on mistakes, increase learners’ confidence even when they make mistakes, think of creative ways to avoid mistakes, and investigate mistakes,” Bar explains.

“Mistakes are seen as an opportunity for learning and improvement, not as a failure, and to improve organizational processes in the education system.”

How it works

Bar offers the following example of MBL.

“Let’s say a student in a rhetoric course submitted a paper in which he presented all the elements of an argument without using reliable sources and also without a logical connection between the elements of the argument. 

“The instructor returned the work to him with questions only and not with corrections or hints for the solution. The questions are designed to make the student re-examine the logical connections between the elements of the argument,” Bar says.

“The student studied the structure of the argument and understood its weaknesses. And later he analyzed the mistake on the board with the participation of the class, and for the analysis he received a bonus in the final grade — not on the solution but on the investigation of the mistake.”

Using MBL, the teacher helped this student learn not only how to write an argument correctly, but also to understand the logical process behind each argument. 

“The next time the student is required to write an argument, he will know to choose the right elements. Also, he became more aware of logical thinking in writing arguments. The mistake not only increased his understanding of the specific subject, but also helped him develop skills that will be used in additional courses and future assignments.”

MBL makes better workers

Bar says that learning from mistakes is an essential skill in teaching and in all professions. 

“Students who have learned to deal with their mistakes in a constructive way during their academic studies will be better prepared for the world of work,” he says.

“They will learn to investigate mistakes and above all their feelings will be of confidence and challenge rather than frustration, disappointment and shame.”

Bar points out that MBL is an essential part of post-mission analysis in the world’s air forces, and in the last decade it has even gained momentum in the world of medicine. 

“There are many organizations that deal with attempts to prevent mistakes, but I don’t know of any other unique center that deals with promoting learning from mistakes in academic teaching and teacher training,” he says.

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