Monday, February 18, 2008

Failing Your Students into Achievement

People who never experience failure or difficulty in their early life, have a habit of crashing hard later in life when they are faced with challenges. Not developing any sort of resilience is detrimental to personal growth and the only way to develop this sort of personal fortitude is through failure. As Bruce Wayne's father says in Batman Begins, "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."

Students who never fall, never learn to pick themselves up. With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the power of controlled failure. Design a lesson where the intention is for the students to fail at it. Whether you tell them that your objective is to have them fail is really up to you. Afterwards, have the students share their failed ventures as a class and discuss how one can convert failure into success. What changes can be made to remedy the situation? Or, now that we've failed, where do we go from here? By having students fail in a somewhat controlled manner, students will be better able to handle future roadblocks. Instead of just lying on the ground and giving up, students will know that there is another option out there.

The thing is, students will fail to achieve all the time. Some students are quite used to it, while others have never tasted the bitterness of defeat. This type of activity helps both ends of the spectrum. It helps the students who have never failed experience a reality of life and it helps students who struggle know that there are alternatives. If you aren't comfortable with designing something where your students fail, go ahead and fail at something yourself and then discuss with the class how things could have improved. Come on, we've all had lessons flop on us? Did you just curl into the fetal position behind your desk or did you try something new to remedy the situation?

As teachers, our job isn't to pick up our students when they fall, but to show that they can get up themselves and move on. It's the difference between between guiding a rope and pulling a rope. The person who has been guided will eventually learn the paths and nuances, but the person who has been pulled, won't be able to find their own inertia to start.

I'm a pragmatic teacher and I don't expect every GLE or CLE or NCTE standard to stick like glue with my students, but if they can mature into responsible, self-guided adults, then I haven't failed completely as a teacher.

1 comment:

MAL said...

I am a big believer in overcoming challenges for personal growth lesson. I often see students who improve dramatically in some academic area as rough gems waiting to be polished. These are the kids who excel later on when the going gets tough! So I like the idea of incorporating this type of challenge into curricula.