I knew of a math teacher (we’ll call him Mr. Smith) that did not allow a student to erase his/her mistakes. In fact, Mr. Smith would actually take points off for erased mistakes EVEN IF THE ANSWER WAS CORRECT! Now, if you were a student like me, that would’ve drove us crazy!
But maybe this feeling of outrage for having our mistakes on display is the key issue. Students don’t think about their mistakes rationally – they think about them emotionally. It’s a feeling of shame, and our natural response is to avoid its source. If we say something embarrassing, we hide our face. If we get a bad grade, we hide the test away. Unsurprisingly, that’s the worst move to make if you ever want to get better. And often, the mistakes that students perceive as dire are either careless errors or a single concept applied incorrectly on several questions. Mr. Smith recognized this and used his “no erasing” technique as an easy way to pinpoint where the mistake was made, therefore simple to correct it.
Mr. Smith created an environment that allowed everyone to be more open about the mistakes made and how they happened, which helped students place less significance on future errors. Mr. Smith’s method behind the madness, if you will, was to show students that it’s OK to make mistakes. Academic success does not come from how smart or motivated students are. It comes from, as we all know, how we learn from our mistakes.