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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  • It the students are allowed to practice and the failure is not independent assessment...then the students may reach a level of understanding more quickly....this dampens the feedback of failing and turns it into an opportunity to improve...
  • Shane:time is the enemy. If you are trying to cover the CSO, they are allowed to fail, but may not be allowed to demonstrate mastery until the next year in another class which utilizes the same concept or skill.
  • Students sometimes feel that challenge is a threat, especially the the higher level students.  I think it's healthy for kids to fail, but I don't always like that term.  "Fail" sounds somewhat final--or I think students think of it that way.
  • I think this is very applicable with higher level kids; they are often afraid to challenge themselves because they are afraid to fail.  They will lose how "smart" they are if they fail.
  • Students are especially scared to speak in a foreign language because they will inevitably make mistakes. I am interested in learning more about creating a classroom environment where students are not afraid to take risks and try, even if it means making lots of mistakes.

    One thing I try to do is share with students how mistakes in a foreign language can be really funny. A friend of mine calls these "happy accidents". It gives us a chance to laugh and have fun and then correct our mistakes. I share stories from my own foreign language learning experiences, or stories my friends have shared with me.

  • We need to get over right and wrong and practice, practice, practice BUT PRACTICE EFFICIENTLY AND CORRECTLY!  Thus----ASSESS/FEEDBACK!
    • Are you talking about practice?
      • Come on, Allen!  Practice!!!!!! LOL
  • I teach math and physics - both offer lots of opportunity for failure...  However, I'm a firm believer in learning from mistakes. I will allow students to retake a test from scratch to help them improve grades. If they can show that they know the material, then they have learned, even if it takes a while to sink in.
  • In Cosmetology, I tell my students that they are in a safe environment with me and that this is where you make your mistakes.  I tell them that if they do something that I cannot fix, then I will take a picture of it because " Its a  good one".

    They cant be afraid to try because they will never learn if they dont mess up and correct their mistakes.  I am still learning after 26 years and will continue till I die.  Nyana
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