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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  • 1. Loaded question. You can never have too much practice. There's always room for more as long as it's meaningful.
    2. They need to understand that failure is not a bad thing first.
    3. It shows them what they still have to learn.
    4. I try not to be a roadblock, but there is a process of repeating practice prior to reassessing required knowledge.
    5. The emphasis has to be on the good faith attempt... Did they try... Was it their best attempt at this time.
    6. Constant communication with home is paramount to understanding my grading (assessing) procedures.
    7. It does because I exempt them from previous failed attempts once they achieve success.
    8. Nope. See previous.
    9. Hold them accountable for what they don't know, and continue to require practice.
    10. They are given meaningful feedback either electronically (quia or google docs). The feedback has to be personal for each student to be meaningful.
    11. Include more practice, but don't let them know it's practice. You have to recreate assessment-pressure so that they understand their own strengths & weaknesses, you must have them review that assessment... & be prepared to reassess.
  • First


  • In order for "failure" to work, there would have to be a community of trust built in the classroom (or school.)
    Students and teachers cannot use failure anymore as a punishment or as a consequence for irresponsibility.
    I like the idea however. The examples help.
  • We must reteach parents, especially at the lower grades, about how they approach the concept of failure and what that means.
  • 9. Learning that we need to keep going, and not quit when we fail. 

    Using tables and a way to practice; having students to discuss together what they need to understand. 

    Feedback is not failure but a learning tool. Communicating with parents that failure is a part of of learning and success. 

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