How we learn
We learn when we feel safe, if we feel unsafe the old “fight or flight response kicks in“. This doesn’t just apply to physical threats. If students fear making mistakes, looking silly and losing face, the process of learning simply cannot happen, they will fight you or they will escape- mentally (sometimes they will try the physical escape too!). There are a number of reasons students can feel this way but generally it is a fear bred from past experience of being wrong and then being scorned or hurt in some way.
We talk about providing a safe environment for students to work in being essential for success. Students need to be safe to feel the freedom to make mistakes without negative consequences (this includes the teacher). With your class rules set down at the start of the year, should be something along the lines of “Encourage your peers to keep trying and support them at all times.” Obviously if students are ever found to be reacting negatively to others mistakes you should come down strongly on this, making it clear that the behaviour of not supporting your peers is totally unacceptable.
The idea that making mistakes is the first step to learning can be reinforced by some skills games where the students start off with a simple task like throwing a ball into a basket and over the course of a few throws improving as they adjust to the mistakes. This is exactly the same as a maths problem you try once, get wrong, try again with a new idea, get closer, try again with an adjustment, get it right. Anecdotes too like Edison finding 999 ways how not make a light bulb before he discovered the one way to do it demonstrates this idea well. Constantly reinforcing the idea throughout the year is important.
The idea above is classroom management but students need to understand the importance of making mistakes that lead to learning. Philosophy starts with creating this environment but discussing the idea of learning and I take firstly a scientific approach. I use parts of the following video:
From 35 seconds to the end of the video it describes in clear terms the idea of practice and effort improving our skills. It also discusses the idea that everyone and every brain can change with effort. This video does use higher level words that could confuse younger students, however the graphics are simple and clear and explaining the graphics in appropriate language would work.
Games can work as well. Teaching students patterns of music or tapping pencils, running a obstacle course in a certain way expands of the idea of learning something new and continual good practice improves overall performance.
I use pictures and explanations of making a track through a jungle and the more I walk the path the clearer and easier it gets.
This process can also be used when working with students who struggle socially and emotionally and you are trying to assist them with decision making.