Learning to make mistakes

IMG_6631.jpgAs an “old lady” trying to learn new things I find myself struggling to struggle. Does that make sense?

I am thinking children may be in this same spot at times. We begin to learn a new skill by looking at a beautiful finished product, or watching someone who is a wonderful artist or musician. We swoon and say yes, I want to do that. I really want to draw like that or sing like that or be a fabulous runner who finishes with the first 10 runners in a marathon. We see what they have accomplished and want that. This was what I was trying not to be like. I was trying not to think I needed a perfect product right away.

I have been taking drawing classes on and off now for a couple years. I am am/was a teacher. I know the steps we need to take to learn. Yet, as I begin to develop this new skill of drawing I want to have a great final product right away. I don’t practice enough. Yet I want to be perfect/ well lets just say I want to be good. I am fearful of showing my work since it is sure to have “mistakes.” It is not perfect. In fact, it is a long ways from perfect.

I know I am missing lots of knowledge and have not spent the time practicing and trying again and again. It is why I signed up for drawing class one. I have never really taken a drawing class. Yet, I think I should be able to draw really well.

I know exactly where I struggle. I know I don’t understand fordownloadshortening, I know I don’t see the negative space, I know I don’t get what is happening along the edges of the piece I am drawing. So today it should not have been a surprise when my drawing was being reviewed and she says,

  • “What pencils are you using?” – Ummm – I don’t know a mid- range I think?! – I squeak
  • “You need to get away from those in the middle range so you can really draw the details that you see. use a H2 and up”
  • “What is the line telling you?
  • “Look really closely at the edge”
  • You need more information with less lines

Then the big statement came to all of us –

  • We really need to learn how to make mistakes! You need to make lots of mistake.

The side note was “this is great – you have lots of mistakes.”

Should I rejoice or cry – I was trying so hard not to have “mistakes” and here she is telling me she loves this. This is where we learn.

Learning something new is about trying over and over again. It is about making ‘mistakes” and then starting over again. It is about struggling to find a way to create what we see or hear. In our case it is about using a lot of paper. In drawing it is about really observing – what we see and also observing what we are doing with the pencil.

I came home today with this statement ringing in my ears –

We need to learn how to make mistakes!

Why is this so hard for us? I see it in kids all the time. They don’t want to answer a question or try a problem because they might or will be wrong. They have never done the work before but just like me they want to be right before they have ever learned the new task or skill.

This week our homework is about copying two leaves. Copying IMG_6630.jpgevery detail – the curves, lines, veins and on. We really need to see what is there.

I am guess there will be lots of mistakes and I am going to enjoy everyone of them because that is what learning is all about. It is about enjoying the struggle that gets us to new knowledge and skills.

Are you teaching your students to enjoy their mistakes?


(No, this is not my drawing – I have a ways to go before my leaves will look like this one but I am on way!)


PS – How would our world look if we taught kids to celebrate their own and others mistakes? If we really knew that learning was about the mistake and the struggle to understand – Would teasing go away? Would we have more empathy for each other? Would we help each other learn? Would we build a safe community to learn in?


About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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4 Responses to Learning to make mistakes

  1. arjeha says:

    We are so used to people pointing out our mistakes that we are afraid to show anyone what we have done unless it is perfect in our eyes. For so long this mindset has been passed on to students. And yet a CEO (I don’t remember which one) once said something to the effect that if we are not making mistakes then we are not trying hard enough. Congratulations on your mistakes and your growth in learning.

  2. Terje says:

    I think that many generations grew up with the expectation of doing things correctly without mistakes. I believe that with more knowledge about the importance of mistakes the younger generations feel more free to experiment and push themselves further when leanring. What a joy for you to have drawing lessons!

  3. I think it is really valuable for adults to try something new. Struggle is valueable. It gives us so much more empathy for children.

  4. Ramona says:

    I’m in awe of your struggle and continuing to work on something that isn’t easy. There’s so much to learn from making mistakes, so why do we shy away from them? I LOVE the photo of the yellow and green leaf near the end of your post.

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