There has been a lot of talk in the education world about allowing students to fail. I’ve seen quotes about “failing forward” and “fail stands for first attempt in learning.” While, I am certain that those that espouse failure are doing so in order to teach students to not give up, I would like to revise this approach.
For me, when I hear the word “failure,” I think of students wanting to give up or students who believe that they simply aren’t good enough. Traditional education creates an environment ripe for failure. Unit tests, final exams, standardized state testing sessions, and even homework set students up for failure. Many schools still even use an “F” grade to signify that a student has not passed. However, what is this really teaching our students?
Thus, I believe it is time to shift the conversation away from failure. Yes, we should empower students to take a first attempt in learning. However, we shouldn’t teach them how to fail! We need to teach our students to reflect upon their first attempts and to then make attempt two, three, four, and more. Reflection is the key to learning; not failure. If we teach students to reflect and continually rework their approaches, then we will see true success in the classroom.
As students participate in project experiences, the goal is to have students find a solution to their challenging investigation for a larger audience. Thus, it is important to have students continually reflect on their work. A first attempt at answering a challenging investigation should not be the final attempt. Students need to justify their work and thus, must continually rework, redesign, and reevaluate. This is indicative of work in the real-world and thus, is an important aspect of the learning experience.
Reflection can easily be incorporated into daily practice. Journaling or blogging is a perfect way for students to reflect and thus, reconsider their answer to the challenging investigation. Have students answer the challenging investigation at the conclusion of each class period. Students will be able to see how their thinking has evolved over the course of the experience. This will also allow you to formatively assess each student throughout the experience. The blogging will also provide a window into the process of learning, rather than simply the outcome of the learning. Yes, this means that students will be answering the same question each day. It also means that students may not want to answer the same question each day. However, students will quickly fall into the habit and will see the value in utilizing reflection through this process. This reflection will actually prevent failure, as you and your students work toward success at all levels.
Utilizing online discussion boards throughout a project is another great way to promote reflection. Split students into small groups and use an online tool such as TitanPad to monitor the conversation. You can either provide groups with a focus question or allow groups to freely discuss without constraints. You will be able to monitor all discussions at once and even participate in the conversations. You will also have a record of that conversation that aids in the formative assessment process.
Incorporating opportunities for peer and expert feedback are valuable occasions for reflection. A variety of points of view during multiple scheduled sessions enhance the reflection process. Thus, students need to learn how to both give and receive constructive feedback. This feedback becomes a routine part of the learning process and is invaluable for student growth toward success in a project.
As educators, we know that “learning never ends.” It is our job to support our students throughout this learning process. Thus, in reframing the push toward “failing forward” to “reflecting to promote success”, students will have true opportunities to grow as learners.