Sunday, August 10, 2008

If at first you don't fail, try, try again.

  • How can we create a growth mindset in our students and our teachers so that we are not afraid of failure, but rather embrace it and seek it out?
  • How do we create places of learning that support and encourage us to fall down in order to rise up?

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Focus on the learner's progress and strategies, not outcomes.
  • Create teams of learners that support and encourage each other.
  • Leaders/teachers share their own failures (not just their successes).
  • Place people on both sides of the wall, some to catch you if you fall, others to help you over and take you to the next wall.
  • Encourage learners to ask questions, lots of questions.
  • Try, try again.
  • Laugh a lot!
What do you think?

(Yes, that is me)


MariaD said...

Just pose bigger problems ^_^ You can solve an exercise in a minute or three and failure is bad when doing exercises. If a good, juicy problem takes you an hour or three, or maybe even weeks or months to solve, there WILL be dead ends, detours, mistakes and failed attempts of all sorts. You will have to make failure an integral part of your process, develop ways to deal with it, and in general consider it the norm.

Another approach is through iterations. If you plan for many iterations of the same project, people will develop and perfect their project with each iteration. Then earlier attempts will not be seen exactly as "failures", but as steps up. Sometimes it's as easy as asking the same question five or six times in a row and collecting everybody's answers again and again. Of course, not every question and every project works: you want open-ended questions, rather than "what is 2+2?"

There are more venues of that sort, too, like using design as a principle, or focusing heavily on creating level (Bloom's Revised) tasks, or making collaborative collections, or...

Billgx said...

It is natural to avoid failure, but people should realize that the world's most successful people are also the biggest failures.

A common example is the baseball player. The very best players fail at bat more often than they are successful. Just look at the very best batting averages to confirm this.

Successful people are just people who didn't let failure stop them from continuing to try. I think reading and learning about people's success stories is essential for young people. Show me someone who is successful, and I'll show you someone who has failed-- a lot! But they kept trying.

This is a critical discussion for teachers to have with students, and I think it is a difficult concept to teach, given the normal human aversion to failure.

Anonymous said...

I think that when teachers admit that they also make mistakes, students are more inclined to take risks. Trying again and again helps students to see that sometimes you have to work at something to get it right. I like your ideas. Students need to feel comfortable about learning.

Jackie Ballarini said...

The way in which we react to student answers is important too. Saying to a student, "No." Then asking another student for the answer does nothing to encourage thinking through a problem.

Chan Bliss said...

I wonder if teacher edition textbooks are to blame. The answer is right there next to the question. A set up like that helps to perpetrate the myth of teacher infallibility both in the minds of the students and the teachers.
With teachers never modeling failure in the classroom how can students be expected to accept failure as a step toward success.
I have teachers so afraid of failure that they will not even attempt to plug in their computer, I get called. I show them how the plugs are the shape of the hole that they plug into. It is getting more and more difficult to help without appearing condescending.
So this year I have put it back to the teachers in a way that they understand. Before they ask me for help I have told them to 1) stop and ask themselves 2) ask a neighbor 3) ask a friend. If all that fails to give them the answer then ask me.
We’ll see how that goes, I’m also putting out a password jar, forget your password and I better hear some coin in the jar before I reset any passwords.

Anonymous said...

"But failure takes up so much class time. And how do I plan for extra failure time? I have to cover X, Y and Z this year - I don't have time for trial and error."

SO many teachers like easy step-by-step learning. Sometimes we have to let the learning be messy. I completely agree with you!

Durff said...

Recently people have been saying one has to know the software before teaching it. I disagree. This is not being vulnerable, allowing one to fail in front of students, or being transparent. If we are to model how to fail, be persistent, and to keep trying until we succeed, then we must be transparent in our learning. I know, and k12 learners know, that I will never know it all. They also see my willingness to fail...didn't Alvin Toffler have a quote about that?

Liz B Davis said...

Embracing failure doesn't come easy to me. I have always been a good student and I did my best to avoid situations which might have allowed me to fail. I wish I had had the courage to pursue some of the more challenging academic subjects such as math and computer science.

I am now pushing my self to learn Alice, a visual programming language and I am hoping to bring my students along the learning journey with me. It will be scary to admit to them that I don't know everything (or even that much) about programming (especially since it is a new job). But I'm going to practice what I preach and try learning with my students in the fall.

Thanks for all of your comments on this topic. I know we can all talk the talk. Stay tuned to see if I can also walk the walk.