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Overcoming the Fear of Making a Mistake
For effective learning to take place, a classroom should have a community-like environment. Students need to feel comfortable and accepted. They should not fear failure or be weary of sharing their opinions and presenting their ideas. Teachers should encourage students to ask questions when in doubt and explain their thinking behind their understanding of concepts.
It is difficult for many students to have the courage needed to voice their opinion or to openly explore unfamiliar ideas. Teachers must work hard to make everybody feel like they are an important asset to the classroom. They can do this by not always calling on a select group of students and never rejecting students' answers. Instead teachers should encourage participation from all students and ask students to explain their thinking even if it is wrong. Caine and Caine (1991) suggest that, "When students feel good about themselves as learners, they are willing to take risks and focus the attention necessary for further learning. Students are more willing to tackle tasks if they believe they can be successful."
When teachers model respect for all students, they are encouraging community within their room. Respect is not easy to instill in all students, but teachers should always be making conscious attempts to model it. Teachers should promote that, "Treating people with respect means letting them know that their safety, and happiness matter, that they are important and worthy simply because they are fellow human beings" (Josephson Institute, 1997). It may be useful to remind students of the "Golden Rule." The Golden Rule is a universal concept that many of the major religions and philosophers can all agree on.
Students need to feel accepted in the classroom, but some discomfort is unavoidable and necessary. It is healthy for students to experience discomfort when their conceptual understanding is challenged or when they are encouraged to a take risk such as practicing their public speaking. It may be useful to hold discussions about how science and other fields of study would not progress if people were not willing take risks and try new things. It should be made obvious to students that most successful people do not completely avoid making mistakes but they learn from these experiences. Teachers should also frequently reinforce that the purpose of the class is for learning and that when someone is learning they don't have all the right answers and may even make a mistake.