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?


Questioning for A Growth Mindset

I have posted numerous times about the importance of a growth mindset. Today I came across a great infographic that can be shared with students in order to help them take responsibility for their learning and to encourage them to develop their self-questioning skills in order to reflect on who they are as learners.

The author of this infographic is Jackie Gerstein and she developed this checklist in order to help students enhance their mindset through personal accountability. She blogs at UserGeneratedEducation and has loads of great ideas that she graciously shares.

Digging a little deeper, I found a similar checklist for teachers to use to reflect on their own practice and how they are embedding opportunities for a growth mindset to flourish in their classes:

I have a lot of open real estate on my classroom walls.  I would like to engage my kids in helping me design something to help us all remember the goal of a growth mindset in all that we do.

I am also going to go back and take a closer look at Piktochart – because who doesn’t like information to look beautiful?


Be Bad…Until You Are Good

I am a bit fan of helping children to establish a Growth Mindset and the idea that #youcandoanything. Sometimes however, I think perhaps teachers can be at fault for overthinking how to go about creating this kind of ‘can do’ attitude in our classes. What really is the best way to instil in our kids the need to push through and keep trying, even when you are not sure if what you are doing is ‘good’ or ‘right’?

Then I saw a shot from one of Ellen’s recent shows, where she was interviewing Jason Segal who had the following to say:

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I think this is really cool advice. And it doesn’t have to only apply to the kids we teach.  When was the last time you were not afraid to be bad at something until you were good at it?

Math, Mindset

More on Mindset

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about developing a growth mindset , in particular in math class.  Engage their Minds chimed in with more great resources for developing a growth mindset.  It’s something that clearly people are thinking about.

One of the ideas I had was to follow in the steps of the Khan Academy and add an inspiring quote or statement to printed papers I gave my students to encourage them as they learned.  I was going over the types of fraction work my kids needed and was about to print some customised worksheets for them to practise from Math-Aids.com when I noticed that at the end of each worksheet is a box for you to add instructions or other text.  What a perfect spot for a growth mindset quote!

And then I thought, why not let the kids create both their own learning pages and add their own words of encouragement?  So I did.  And they were great!

Give it a go!

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Math, Mindset

Developing Growth Mindset in an Inquiry Based Math Class

I have been researching the use of ‘good’ questions in math via the book Open-Ended Maths Activities by Peter Sullivan and Pat Liburn. This book challenges teachers to think more deeply about math questioning and about providing students with opportunities to show the depth of their thinking.  It places math understanding on a continuum and allows you to really see the thinking process that children go through when solving problems.  The problems differ from ‘regular’ math questions in that the focus in not necessarily on THE right answer, but more on the process of problem solving, predicting, refining thinking, justifying decisions and creating own like problems.

The three main features of a ‘good’ question:

  1. They require more than remembering a fact or reproducing a skill
  2. Students can learn by answering the questions, and the teacher learns about each student from the attempt
  3. There may be several acceptable answers

In partners, we started with this question:

Question One

We will take a look at the different strategies people used and then move on to a more challenging question. As children work, I am looking at the following behaviors (not all at once, but throughout the process):

  • works cooperatively
  • works independently
  • makes a plan
  • keeps trying
  • when stuck, tries something different
  • discusses work with others
  • uses materials when useful
  • draws diagrams when necessary
  • concentrates on the task
  • asks questions
  • organizes information systematically
  • explains and displays ideas clearly
  • looks for all possibilities
  • able to generalize
  • accepts assistance from others
  • is confident
  • uses a range of mathematical strategies

After the kids finished their work, I scanned it and shared my thinking with them as I went through their responses. This was probably the most valuable part of the lesson – and the part where we begin to put into practice the idea of growth mindset. By actively illustrating what I am thinking and where I see the next steps for all groups of children, it promotes the idea of deeper learner for all.  What I like about this approach is that there is feedback that is applicable for all students and everyone can see something that they can look to improve on during the next question. We did this on our smart board with the whole class.  Here are samples of some of the feedback I gave my students:

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Our next step was to stay in our partnerships (mixed ability) and tackle a few more questions of increasing difficulty.  Each time, I scanned their papers and we discussed and gave feedback as a group.  Toward the end, the students were very adept at indicating the strengths of the teams and offering suggestions for growth.

We have now moved on to applying our problem solving strategies to a weekly math challenge. A math challenge is a problem that is designed to last more than one lesson before a solution is found.  It is a chance to show what you know about math, to make predictions, to create your own problems, and to share your reflections on yourself as a mathematician.

Each week, we will have a new math challenge.  It can be solved independently or in a small group.  It can be done at home or at school.  It has a due date (usually will be on Friday), and it is designed to help students apply what we are working on or skills that have been focused on in class already.

Each math challenge comes with the same list of ten criteria.  Each of these criteria is equally important.  Students are challenged to respond to each of the criteria to the best of your ability. These criteria will be the same each week.


Here is our first question:

Challenge One

You might notice the quote at the bottom of the question slip.  After reading the work of Carol Dweck on establishing a growth mindset, I then saw that the Khan Academy have also utilized this research and have found a way to improve student performance via one simple trick: adding a growth mindset inspired quote to their math pages.  This is just one way of reminding students or drawing their attention to the fact their brains are capable of growth and new learning.

We just started this today and worked on it for about fifteen minutes.  The kids were super excited and it was great to see them tackle this problem with such a high degree of independence.

After setting this up, I was reminded of a post I read recently about additive grading.  I am now rethinking how I am going to grade this to some degree. But that’s for another post…

Brain Research, Mindset

One Step Towards A Growth Mindset

A lot has been said of developing a growth mindset.  Carol Dweck is a great person to start with if you are unfamiliar with this term.  Essentially, it means that:

people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. – Carol Dweck

The Khan Academy have jumped with this idea and are incorporating one simple step within their already fabulous program that has  led to a 5% increase in problems attempted, proficiencies earned, and return visits to the site.  What is this step?  One simple line of text added to a page with a math problem on it:

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Research indicates that our brains have a high degree of plasticity and as teachers, we should take every chance we can to tap into that.

What could this look like in your classroom?

I have followed the Khan Academy example and added a growth mindset quote to any printed work I hand out to kids.

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I know this is only one small step, but hey, if it is good enough for Sal Khan…

What else can we do? Everything from framing your questions, giving kids more information about HOW and WHY we are doing what we are doing, and framing your classroom with statements for the development of a growth mindset such as these examples from MindSetWorks

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