This was originally posted on June 26, 2011 as a blog post entitled AFL, Art Class, and Failure Management

Sometimes you pick up little nuggets of wisdom when you least expect it...


I'm sitting in a hotel room in Williamsburg, VA.  Tomorrow is the start of the annual VASSP conference.  I ate dinner at Sal's Ristorante (lasagna - not bad, but not great) and decided to read a little before going to bed.  I picked up one of the books that I've been reading lately, John Ortberg's If You Want to Walk On Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat - long title, but excellent book.


While Ortberg's book is not specifically about education or the classroom, it deals a lot with fear and failure - 2 topics that do play a major roll in education.  On page 148, Ortberg writes the following:


...another important part of failure management - taking the time and having the courage to learn from failure.


A book called Art and Fear shows how indispensably failure is tied to learning.  A ceramics teacher divided his class into 2 groups.  One group would be graded solely on quantity of work - fifty pounds of pottery would be an "A", forty would be a "B", and so on.  The other group would be graded on quality.  Students in that group had to produce only one pot - but it had better be good.


Amazingly, all the highest quality pots were turned out by the quantity group.  It seems that while the quantity group kept churning out pots, they were continually learning from their disasters and growing as artists.  The quality group sat around theorizing about perfection and worrying about it - but they never actually got any better.  Apparently - at least when it comes to pottery - trying and failing, learning from failure, and trying again works a lot better than waiting for perfection.  No pot, no matter how misshapen, is really a failure.  Each is just another step on the road to an "A".  It is a road littered with imperfect pots.  But there is no other road.


The AFL principles just jumped off the page at me.  This story obviously applied to an art class - or any other class in which something is produced - but I really think it applies to every single classroom in our schools.  Failure is a tool for success.


This story brought the following questions to mind:

  1. Do you give your students enough practice?
  2. Do you give your students enough opportunities to fail?
  3. How could failure (from trying) help your students?
  4. Do you ever try to prevent your students from experiences failure (from trying)?
  5. How could you better explain to your students the importance of failure (from trying)?
  6. How could you better explain to your students' parents the importance of failure (from trying)?
  7. Does your grading system allow for students to learn from failure?
  8. Does your grading system penalize students for failure?
  9. How could you help your students learn from their failures?
  10. Along with opportunities to practice, do you also provide appropriate feedback students know if they are failing? 
  11. What could you do to create a culture of failure - (risk-taking and trying) - in your classroom? 


I want to encourage you to consider how, in the spirit of AFL, you can embrace appropriate failure in your classroom.


Any thoughts? 

How can or how does the concept of a Culture of Failure relate to your classroom?

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  • The sports analogy of learning more from a loss than a win holds true in the academic classroom as well!!

  • Currently my grading system does not allow my students to learn from failure.  When students do not do well on a test, I sometimes offer them a retest later.  Most of the time I cannot get a student to care enough about their grade to retest.  They just want to move on to the next chapter.  I think if I let students know from the beginning that they will have chances to improve, they will have a better attitude about the class.(?) 

  • Don't make failure a negative. Situations in life, whether it be in the classroom or anywhere else, are not inherently good or bad.  They just ARE.  The way we respond to these situations defines them to be positive or negative.  As teachers, we can model this and use failures as the stepping stones to ultimate success.

  • A child has to be confident enough to try and fail.

    Many SE students have failed so many times that they won't try anymore; they've given up.

  • Anne: students have to practice everyday to be able to draw, they have to learn to see, they have to turn in a drawing everyday.  Practice, practice, practice every day.   As to Failure: beginning students are drawing as if they were 4, by repeated practicing drawing techniques and different lines, they learn to see differently and they become better drawers.


    Susan: students keep a notebook, note-taking is a practice for what comes later. They have a guide for what they will need to know.  One form of practice is constant note-taking.  Students use the interactive whiteboard as a form of practice also.


    Liz: I have French III write a weekly journal.  I give a work paper where every error is written.  Students are asked to self-edit on this page, I help when they cannot find the error themselves.  We together get their errors corrected, then they go back in and turn in a corrected, self-edited writing.  They tend not to repeat these errors once they have made the same error and corrected it  several times.



  • Students need to feel comfortable enough in the classroom to attempt tasks at which they may fail...

  • 1. Who's to say when there is enough practice

    2.  No, we have always been in the mindset that we don't want them to fail.  There needs to be more trial & error

    3.  They can realize that things are never perfect & practice leads to improvement.  They also learn to keep from becoming so discouraged.

    4.  No, we let them know that it's ok to be wrong, but we have another counter argument when we give tests & score them

    5.  By explaining to students that none of us are perfect & we learn from our mistakes

    6.  By allowing more ungraded practices

    7/8.  Not exactly.  It shows more of their effort in class which reflects the overall assessment

    9.  By documentating failures for them to see area needed for improvement

  • we want everyone to have a warm fuzzy feeling...sissyfication of america

    NO Child left behind philosophy

  • Students have the time in class to improve through a range of activities.
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