Analyzing Mistakes: An experiment

I expect students to correct their quizzes and “write feedback to themselves” when they apply for reassessment.  The content that I get varies widely, and most of it is not very helpful, along the lines of

I used the wrong formula

I forgot that V = IR

It was a stupid mistake, I get it now.

I was inspired by Joss Ives’ post on quiz reflection assignments to get specific about what I was looking for.  This all stems from a conversation I had with Kelly O’Shea about two years ago, back when I had launched myself into standards-based/project/flipped/inquiry/Socratic/mindset/critical thinking/whatnot all at once and unprepared, that has been poking its sharp edges into my brain ever since:

Me: Sometimes I press them to be specific about what they learned or which careless mistake they need to guard against in the future. It’s clear that many find this humiliating, some kind of ingenious psychological punishment for having made a mistake. Admitting that they learned something means admitting they didn’t know it all along, and that embarrasses them. Does that mean they’re ashamed of learning?

Kelly: How often do you think they’ve practiced the skill of consciously figuring out what caused them to make a mistake? How often do we just say, “That’s okay, you’ll get it next time.” instead of helping them pick out what went wrong? My guess is that they might not even know how to do it.

Me: *stunned silence*

So this year I developed this.

Phases of Feedback

  1. Understand what you did well
  2. Diagnose why you had trouble
  3. Improve

Steps 1 and 3 can be used even for answers that were accepted as “correct.”

This has yielded lots of interesting insight, as well as some interesting pushback. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to help my students understand what exactly “generalize” mean.  In a future post I’ll try to gather up some examples. Overall, it’s helped me communicate what I expect, and has helped students develop more insight into their thinking as well as the physics involved.


    • Fill your boots — I hope you’ll let me know how it goes!

      FYI, everything on the site is Creative commons licensed: by attribution, non commercial, sharealike (see the logo at the bottom of the page — it’s a hyperlink to more info). In other words, I ask that you acknowledge the source, but you’re welcome to use, modify, and distribute, as long as it’s not for profit, and that you accord others the same privileges.

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