The Cycle of Failure
We've all been in the situation with that "difficult" student in our class where they shut down, let out a sign of discontent and throw an assignment aside while saying something like "I'm not doing this!". I know this can be frustrating as an educator but I want you to think about something other than trying to correct the students action but I want you to think: "Why are they doing this?".
Chances are (depending on what age you teach) that student has not been successful in school for most of their academic career. When they give effort, in return they get low grades, judgement or looks of disappointment. If this has been happening for 3, 5 or 10 years I can't really blame them for shutting down and not wanting to continue the cycle of failure they are stuck in. This can help explain no only the actions of the student but the reasons behind it.
Re-Framing Failure as Opportunity
John Dewey the famous educational theorist once stated: "Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes." This is truly a concept that education needs to adopt in order to save those students stuck in the cycle of failure. Instead of looking at failure as the end of the learning process we must start to see it as part of the journey.
Failure shouldn't mean that a student's work is done, it should mean that they need to rework, relearn and correct their thoughts and responses. Once the cycle is changed from judgment to providing the opportunity to fix and review their learning it becomes an invaluable learning tool.
F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning
FAIL in my classroom and many of the teachers I work with has evolved a new meaning. F.A.I.L. now stands for First Attempt In Learning instead of some depressing, defeating end result. When my students fail they get to re-work and revisit their learning and correct their mistakes. Through this they learn the content in a more focused way targeted to their specific misconceptions.
My question for teachers that I work with is always this: "Does it matter 'WHEN' a student learns? or 'THAT' they learn?" Most teachers just want their students to learn the material...the when becomes much less important when you stop focusing on a curriculum map or pacing guide and start to focus more on student learning.
Whether you teach more traditionally or are trying some of the newer instructional methods like Mastery Learning or PBL's, Failure is an integral part of the learning process. We never learn to walk without stumbling, we never learn any skill without failing more times than we succeed. It is through failure success is found and learning can truly occur.
So don't be afraid to let your students FAIL. It's amazing the change that it's had on my classroom and many others I've worked with. Once student take ownership and realize that they can't pull the escape hatch of failure they will try harder the first time and increase their efforts. This creates a scenario where failing is more work than success and one where students and teachers can thrive in the process of learning!