Learning

Failure Is An Option

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So often, the sentiment above is what echoes in our minds when we start something new. But what if it wasn’t? What if instead we focused on the idea that failure was an option – as long as we fail well?

The keynote speaker at the AGIS (Association of German International Schools) Conference was Lance G. King: a fellow New Zealander with a dry sense of humor and a passion for failure. His keynote often referenced the work of Carol Dweck with regard to establishing a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

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His talk, however, primarily focused on the ideas of failure and resilience. In his research he noted that the key difference in the success of students was not that one group failed and one was successful, it was that one group failed well and the other failed badly:

*All slides are from Lance King’s Website: The Art of Learning

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So, how do we encourage students to fail well? King shared the following ‘Failure Cycle’ in which teachers actively guide students in the process of considering their actions, taking responsibility for what was done (or not done), and setting in place a plan for doing something differently the next time around:

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Lance is an advocate of skills based teaching and has taken a lead role in the re-development of Approaches to Learning for the new MYP curriculum. In addition to content acquisition,  he demands a focus on skill acquisition with the role of the teacher being one of guiding students through the process of successful failure.  He (ironically? sarcastically?) asks the following of teachers:

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Well? This is the reality for many people, yet has our teaching changed? Like Sal Khan, I believe Lance King is not suggesting that we replace teachers with computers.  What they are both suggesting is that we embrace the power of technology and elevate the role of the teacher from content deliverer to skills guide or even failure coach.

Some questioned Lance as to wether the notion of supporting failure amongst students would not simply lead to apathy and lack of effort on their part: “My teacher says it is ok to fail”. If this mindset were to develop, we have done the students a disservice in not putting emphasis where it belongs.  It is not ‘just’ failure we are embracing but failing well. If you were to review the cycle (above), you will see that it actually takes quite a bit of work to fail well. We are in an age when we are seeing ideas, innovation, solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. We won’t get where we need to be without first embracing, accepting, and even celebrating our failures, first.

Like most things, this approach of embracing failure is going to take some educating amongst parents, teachers, and students in order to be successful. There seems to be such an emphasis on success that is direct, clean, linear.  But rarely is this the case:

Last year, I shared this video with my fourth graders and had them draw their own version of success.  I asked them to think about a time they were successful at something and then to think back as to how they got that way.  Did they just wake up and be a brilliant skier? An amazing artist? A super reader? What did the journey look like from not knowing to being successful?

All of the twists and turns and bumps and gaps along the way point to the resilience each student developed in order to make their way to ‘success’.

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Not giving up, looking for new solutions, believing in yourself, pushing yourself beyond what you think you know.  These are all characteristics of resilience that can be summed up in this humorous clip that your students will get a kick out of:

So how do we get here?  As Lance said in his presentation at the IB Conference in Madrid, “The most motivated learning is self-regulated”. This is something we have all seen to be true: passion, interest, and curiosity driving learning. As teachers, we would need to develop a classroom culture that supports self-regulated learning (SLR):

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So, what now?

My suggestion would be to look at the Approaches to Learning and start thinking about how these skills can play a more prominent role in your classroom.  One way of doing this (or easing in to this if this is totally new to you) would be to take a look at this reflective blog post from Mags Faber, in which she tries out split screen teaching in order to draw attention to the skills she is trying to focus on.

How do you build resilience, allow students to self-regulate, and teach your kids to fail well?

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