Ordinarily, students are trained to provide correct answers. But, coming up with original ideas--the kind that really make a difference--often requires first being wrong, and sometimes repeatedly, notes Williams College math professor Edward Burger in an eye-opening and inspiring essay
at Inside Higher Ed.
So, to teach students that it's right to be wrong, he rewards their mistakes, going so far as to require a certain level of creative failure to ace his courses.
Five percent of each student's grade depends on students' "quality of
failure," Burger writes. And his lessons "often refer back again and
again to someone's previous mistake to celebrate just how significant it
was." Analyzing why an answer is wrong helps students develop insight,
reasoning skills, and intellectual self-confidence, he maintains.
"With this grading practice in place, students gleefully take more risks
and energetically engage in discussion," he continues. Surely these
are essential elements of any creative thinking.
To arrive at
students' failure grades, Burger has them write short essays at the end
of the semester evaluating the quality of their failures and what they
learned from them. In the essays' conclusions, students state what
grade--from 0, for failure to fail, to 10, for "profound" learning from
failed attempts--their mistakes deserve. Burger finds that their
"surprisingly honest and restrained" assessments of their failures
almost always agree with his own.
The goal of education, he
writes, is "creating a mind enlivened by curiosity and the audacity to
take risks and create new ideas, a mind that sees a world of unlimited
possibilities." Nothing is more valuable in that task, he believes,
than learning that it is not only permissible but necessary to accept
the risk of being wrong. You can find this excellent essay here