Teaching Students to Fail

8 Apr 2014 | Under Uncategorized | Posted by | 5 Comments
Teaching Students to Fail
Teaching Students to Fail

I write on the interactive whiteboard as we discuss preliminary opinions

Failure, when done well, can lead to tremendous success. The experience can be enlightening: It can lend perspective, provide actionable feedback and be the impetus for students’ drive to do better. But failure can also be a crushing emotional experience that cripples motivation. As educators, we can do a lot to see that our students take their inevitable and wonderful failures in a learned, optimistic state of mind. Teaching students to fail gives essential character while it changes a classroom to a more participatory, less fear-driven culture.

Teaching Students to Fail: Character Education

When talking about failure, there are two names that come to mind — Levin and Seligman — though neither are losers. David Levin is one of the founders of the Knowledge is Power Program and the author of Work Hard. Play Nice. Martin Seligman is a psychologist whose book Learned Optimism is often given as a flotation device to college students drowning in work (thanks for the positivity, Nana). Putting these ideas to work in your classroom is often referred to as character education or building non-cognitive skills.

Teaching Students to Fail

An example Scorebook that’s using the Learning Targets app

Character education should be a thoughtful component in all content areas. The provocative title of this post is perhaps misleading: The goal is not to stop at teaching students failure but encourage their sense of grit. This attribute, a commonality among high-achievers, is integral to perseverance. Grit is the answer to the question, “Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence?” (Duckworth et al, 2007). Indeed, the first principle in teaching students to fail is appreciating that grit can and should be a taught in a classroom setting.

Remember that optimism is a learned trait that your students need to practice.

Teaching Students to Fail: Games

We have explored gamification in this blog extensively for its potential to change perspectives. Students can more easily bounce back from failure in a game than failure in a traditional academic setting. Thankfully, there are aspects of games we can study, extract and reuse to create a more resilient classroom.

Clarifying Big and Small Goals

Learning targets are a must. Every lesson should have an achievable, measurable goal that incrementally moves students toward a broader unit goal. The clarity this offers students is worth the effort alone. But its impact goes far beyond building a concept map students can navigate; it helps with teaching students to fail. Students can more easily maintain optimism if they can identify a specific subtopic that is causing setbacks as well as describe targets that have already been achieved.

Daily learning targets are critical in gamification. They are the determining factors of “leveling up” within a given curriculum and must be clearly marked. Of course there’s more to a game than the goal, or even a thoughtful set of goals.

Components of a Game
1. The goal or outcome
2. Rules with limitations on how the outcome can be achieved
3. Feedback on how close players are to the goal
4. Voluntary participation
(Nahl & James, 2012)

ExitTicket can be used as a way to blend assessments with games. Looking at the list, the first three features of a game are easily captured by ExitTicket’s functionality (especially if the Learning Targets app is active). The final component is a challenge.

How do you measure grit? One way: see if your students want another another try at a tough assessment

How do you measure grit? One way: see if your students want another another try at a tough assessment

This requires further investigation: Does an optional game-like assessment produce more failure-resilient participants than a required educational game? Does a class-wide vote on what activity to do next actually qualify an ExitTicket competition as voluntary? To test this with your students, send out a Quicket asking if students would like to repeat the activity. If it was a tough assessment but students are willing to hop back in the saddle, you’re on to something, and I urge you to share your story.

Remember to identify the goal of every lesson and how it relates to the larger course objectives. Keep students informed of their progress along these standards. Experiment with ways to introduce fun but tough assessments that students are willing to retry after poor results.

Teaching Students to Fail: Modeling

Perhaps the most powerful instructional strategy in teaching students to fail is modeling. Bringing in guest speakers to share their stories of perseverance as well as role-playing scenarios are both proven strategies (Shepard, 2004). A teacher with a strong rapport with her or his class can share a personal account of overcoming failure that has lasting effect. This is a controversial statement of course, but teachers should always try to weave a genuine account of their personal lessons learned into their instruction. The relationship we have with students is too influential not to use it for character education.

Remember to speak to your students about your own failures and share with them the joys of getting it right the second, third or nth time around.

Further Reading

Dan Adiletta

About Dan Adiletta

Daniel Adiletta is a licensed teacher with experience implementing 1:1 programs. While guiding an iPad initiative and teaching Computer Science, Adiletta went through numerous response systems until he found ExitTicket. It was exactly what he was looking for and he told his colleagues about it via YouTube.

Giving frequent assessments allow teachers to help struggling students before they fall to far behind because they provide quick feedback. They also give the teacher the opportunity to reteach.

Chanda Jefferson, High School Biology, South Carolina

Kept frequent and fun, real-time feedback can identify where interventions are needed.

Kelly Metz, MIddle School Science, Michigan

Students know where they stand, and can take charge of their learning when needed to understand a certain concept.

Jen Ciok, Middle School Social Studies, Illinois

Prior to ExitTicket, paper-based quizzes, exit slips, and even tests would sometimes go ungraded on my desk.

Robert Rigonan, Middle School Science, Nevada

Today, I ran a professional development my teaching staff at Allen Park High School. It went great. Before today, I have 8 teachers who are using it. After today, the number will definitely increase.

Tim Brown, Mathematics Department Chair
Allen Park High School

ExitTicket has been designed how education technology should be designed: In the classroom, by teachers and students.

Scot Refsland, Ph.D.
LPS Innovation Fellow

We designed and built ExitTicket with the purpose of giving teachers a powerful tool to accelerate student learning – particularly for students entering significantly below grade level.

Louise Waters
Dr Louise Waters, CEO, Superintendent
Leadership Public Schools

Great app to be a more responsive teacher, save time grading, and have students celebrate growth

Mitch Mosbey, First Grade
Promise Road Elementary

Looking for a way to track and monitor student progress? Use ExitTicket student response system for beautiful management!

Lindsay Hudak, Edtech Integration Specialist
Tri-Creek School Corp.

Your app has helped me teach my students how having ‘grit’ leads to success

Kristin Thomsen, 6th Grade Teacher

I saw ExitTicket when it was just barely a functional prototype two years ago. Now seeing it in action recently at the Education For the Future’s Summer Institute, Wow! It’s a real game changer.

Marcy Lauck, Director, National Data Strategies, NLET

I am very enthusiastic about ExitTicket because it fills a much needed gap in our education reform efforts.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart

I’ve seen a lot of technology over the years, and ExitTicket is one of the most impactful educational tools I’ve ever seen.

Tim Koogle, Former CEO of Yahoo

I’m a huge ExitTicket fan.

James Sanders, White House Fellow

The power of change it produces in both students and teachers is amazing. The way it handles detailed longitudinal data has never been seen before in a student response system.

Vickie Bernhardt, Director, Education for the Future