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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  • Practice in the classroom is crucial to learning in any classroom, especially in language and math. Students need to know that it is okay to fail, as long as they are trying to improve with each failure. Often times, it is best to tell students that failure is acceptable up front (ie: first day of school and class introductions). The important thing is that students learn and grow. In classes such as history and science, failures with real world applications are important to track learning and gain knowledge from experiences.
  • We learn from our failures. We need to let the students know that there will be failures in the classroom. The teacher is going to fail if we do not give them time to practice and learn what was taught that day.

  • Very few students complete a virtual task correctly on the first attempt, but they continue trying.  They enjoy using technology and want to do better.

  • Failure is a part of life.  We learn from our mistakes and grow.  Failure should be an acceptable part of education which leads to growth not meltdowns.  It should not  be I failed this I don't know anything.  It should be what can I learn from this.

  • We are all guilty of "failure being bad" and we don't always recognize failure as a learning experience. Let's me honest, who likes to fail? No one. We should allow more opportunities to make mistakes and more opportunities to fix mistakes without penalty.

  • For choir when students start a new piece of music or are learning new music concepts and singing technique students will start out failing. They struggle at first with the new concepts and with the music. However, everyday we practice the music and technique and each day they get better and better.

    The same also applies for math or other core classes. Everyday with math, students practice new problems and new concepts and as a teacher you can point out mistakes students make and have them keep progressing to get better and better. This also helps with class rapport because students will feel more open about their mistakes. 

    The biggest struggle with some students is getting them use to making mistakes and admitting their mistakes so that they may grow.

  • In World Geography, we gave U. S. states tests, a child would take the test until they reached a100 %. Even though some students never reached the 100% only their highest score was recorded. I beleive that we must first break a student down in order to build them up. it is not the first product but the final product that matters. We must not only say the words but our actions must convey them.

  • Repeated testing - record only the highest grade.

    "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." Truman Capote

    Experimenting in science allows students to learn from their failures, to analyze their mistakes, and make improvements!

  • If we can just learn that failing is or can be a stepping stone to success

    Learn not to give up after failure.....keep trying......

    Kids need to see examples of failures that have turned into successes

  • Students are brought up knowing that failure is a bad thing. Failure, currently, is discouraging for most students. We must teach them that failure is a step in learning. More practice, with failure is needed to foster learning. Students with accommodations are sometimes given more help so that they will not fail. Failure should be experienced and learned from in an appropriate manner giving students support needed for learning. Failure is a mindset. 

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