One of the things my students find hardest is when they themselves make mistakes.
Almost all of my students are perfectionists; they have higher expectations of themselves than anyone else in the room.
And there is nothing harder than failing to meet your own expectations.
So What Can You Do To Avoid Further Compounding This Fear?
Talk a lot about mistakes and why mistakes are a good thing.
Praise should never be higher than when someone has made a mistake but stays calm. Unless that is, when they’ve made a mistake, had a meltdown and still been brave enough to go back and try again.
But even with lots of encouragement and lots of praise mistakes are still hard.
Do not stick slavishly to the school marking policy.
I remember several years ago now going out to see a student in another setting whose teacher was incensed that that he had threatened to kill her. He hadn’t meant it. He was in fact a lovely boy. He had just become so distressed by the feedback in his book on a piece of work he had been proud of. The teacher had just done her job, she had followed the marking policy of the school. The student got the book back and he no longer saw his wonderful piece of work, he saw only his mistakes. There was lots of praise in there. But he couldn’t see beyond the mistakes. He ended up excluded from school, in large part because of an incident that could have been prevented. What we have to realise is that although many students dislike making mistakes, the intensity with which students with autism feel about it is often much greater. A standard marking policy doesn’t always work for students with Autism.
Give students the confidence to believe that no matter what you will be proud of them.
A word they’ve put in a book that they haven’t meant to, a spelling mistake or a smudge of ink where it doesn’t belong. For many students on the Spectrum, the fear of making these mistakes can be so huge that they refuse to write. It’s something we have to combat. The first step is to a give a student the confidence that whatever they do you will be proud. Hugely proud.
Find ways around putting corrections on students’ work.
For some students it takes a long time, for them to learn to cope with having corrections in their books; instead to build their confidence levels they just need a whole heap of praise. That doesn’t stop you working on the things you find hard – you just need to find a new way to do it. Seperate spelling books so students can work on the words they need to can work really well (and be used as evidence for Ofstead), as can proactive targets so students know what to focus on. But for those whose anxiety about mistakes means they find writing hard it is often best to avoid corrections on the work. Avoid underlining spelling mistakes or adding in punctuation. Instead just tell them and show them that you think they and their work are great.
When you do introduce currections do it gradually.
As time goes on and a student’s confidence and trust in you increases you can talk verbally through work with students, you can even add corrections; and many will even start to go through and make corrections themselves. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process; a process of talking about mistakes, of giving continuous praise, of building trust, of making mistakes yourself, of empathising when things go wrong, of helping to put things right. Of showing students that making mistakes is part of learning, part being human.
Ensure you are led by the needs of the student and fight your corner to do so.
We are of course teachers, we are bound in many cases by marking policies, by rules, by inspections. We worry that if we don’t put corrections in a student’s book then someone will want to know why. But above all we are there for the students. We need to look at their needs and assess whether what we are doing is helpful. Some students with autism will have gone through this stage, they will already understand by the time you get them that it’s ok to make mistakes. But there are also those who won’t.
So in summary…
Talk to students, talk to their parents and talk to their previous teachers. Develop a system that works for you and works for them; a system which leaves their self esteem in tact. Keep what you write in their books unfailingly positive. If there’s something they didn’t do that you need them to, pop it on a post-it note as a challenge and give it to them at the start of the next assignment. Log it, or take a photo of it so you have a record of the feedback you have given.
Cover your bases, but make sure you cover their bases too.
This way of marking won’t take any longer than the standard way, it’ll just take a few extra post it notes. It’s guaranteed to save many meltdowns and much distress. What’s more it’ll really help in building good relationships. Go on, give it a go. What have you got to lose?
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If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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As always if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m more than happy to help.
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