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This article was first published in the Mindset Works newsletter.

We can deepen our own and our students’ understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability to manage and learn from mistakes is not fixed. We can improve it.

Here are two quotes about mistakes that I like and use, but that can also lead to confusion if we don’t further clarify what we mean:

“A life spent making mistakes is not only most honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing” – George Bernard Shaw

“It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.” – Maria Montessori

These constructive quotes communicate that mistakes are desirable, which is a positive message and part of what we want students to learn. An appreciation of mistakes helps us overcome our fear of making them, enabling us to take risks. But we also want students to understand what kinds of mistakes are most useful and how to most learn from them.

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Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn