A friend of mine and fellow educator wrote a blog post about what she learned from a lesson that failed. She writes, “When an assignment or activity doesn’t work quite right, it is important that we model the reflection process with our students as well. Including them in the reflection not only provides us as teachers with a different perspective, but also teaches students that mistakes are great, but reflecting and improving is even better!”. Her words and ideas were running through my head when I went through my own moment of epic fail.
So what did we do? We followed these three easy steps to demonstrating failure with our students:
When the gallery walk finished, instead of the discussion we had planned using the post-its, we told the kids we had failed (emphasis on we, not them). They giggled at the dramatic way the teacher and I told them how we “bombed” in trying to achieve our goal. But admitting it allowed them to see that even as the “experts” in the classroom, we are not perfect. Everything we do does not work out perfectly, and therefore they are not expected to be perfect every time they complete work in class. We also modeled for students our attitude about failing. We weren’t upset, but instead thoughtful and hopeful.
2. Talk through the next steps
We were clear to the students that we weren’t giving up on the activity. The two of us were going to figure out how to do it better and try it again in the near future. We even mentioned a few ideas we thought could help make it better next time. In this way the students saw the process on how to learn from failure, and what perseverance means. Reflect, replan, and try again.
3. Try again
This is the kicker - you actually have to show the students how you learned from your mistake. The students have to see that the true power in learning comes in attacking the problem again using what you learned from your mistake. When you fail, it’s okay as long as you use what you learned to try again and become better. For our students, it’s not okay to just try once and if it doesn’t work out, give up or look to the teacher for help. The kids actually enjoyed the activity more the second time around, partly because we structured it better, and partly because they knew how much thought we had put into planning it and they wanted to be a part of the success.
Have you failed in front of your students? How did you handle it and how did they respond?