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Excellent Mistakes

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I use the prettiest color pens I can find to correct my students' writing in order to encourage mistakes.

Instead of taking the diaries out of the classroom, correcting them in the teachers' room, then returning them the next class day, I review them during the free talk time in class. This gives me time to question students ("I don't understand what you were trying to say here. Can you try to explain it to me another way?") and to review common problems with the entire class.

Students also get especial praise for "excellent mistakes," such as misusing a new word they'd obviously looked up on the spot to write in the diary, or using convoluted language to make up for a gap in vocabulary. For example, one student used "qualification" instead of "certificate." Another didn't know "burial mound" and wrote that she'd visited "where died people are under a high place."

The class discussions of the excellent mistakes can get lively as students ask for more clarification (for example, the difference between "plant" and "bury"), and even the shyest students become more prolific in their writing when they know mistakes can be "excellent" and not a sign of failure.

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