Monday, November 7, 2011

Mistakes and Failures

What do you think when you hear, "You made a mistake"?
What do you think when you hear, "You failed"?
Do students have the choice, or the right, to fail?

The emphasis in my professional life on Response to Intervention, Standards-Based Reporting and The Leader in Me continually take me back to these important questions. What messages do we send to students, both intentionally and unintentionally in the words that we use and the expectations that we have? I remember attending a conference by Monte Selby several years ago. He had us think back to our elementary school days. He asked us to write down the name of the dumbest kid in our class. Then, he asked us to write down the name of the worst behaved kid in our class. No one seemed to have difficulty with this task. Next, he asked us to think about whether or not we would want to be remembered as the dumbest kid, or the naughtiest kid. He had the educators stand up if they would prefer to be remembered as the naughty student... then the dumb student. How do you think that the results turned out? Only about 5 out of 500 people wanted to be remembered as "the dumb kid."

What does this mean for teaching and learning? If it's better to be naughty than to be dumb, guess what the struggling learners are likely to do... get into trouble. Ruby Payne discusses the importance of "saving face" and Carolyn Tomlinson, William Powell and others help teachers develop safe learning environments that support children in building peer status. We want children to take risks and make mistakes which help them build knowledge, understanding, and empathy. It is unlikely that they will take risks if they see mistakes as failure.

What is failure? The word failure is often applied in a negative way, and has a feeling of permanence. A failure usually implies that there is little chance to change.
  • The American Heritage Dictionary: 
    • Failure: n. 1. An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success. 2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected. 3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency. 
    • Fail: v. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved. 2. to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination, class, or course of study. 3. to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short:

What about mistakes? Mistakes and errors fall into the same category. Often, mistakes are seen as actions that are correctable, and can be learned from. Tracy Thompson who wrote the article below titled Learning From Mistakes writes, "mistakes teach us more than our triumphs."
  • The American Heritage Dictionary: 
    • Mistake: n. 1. An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness. 2. A misconception or misunderstanding. v. 1. To understand wrongly; misinterpret. 2. To identify incorrectly. 

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Rick Wormeli's Redos and Retakes and Fair Isn't Always Equal, and Alan Blankenship's (foreword by Micahel Fullan)  Failure is Not an Option. Let's embrace mistakes, so that we can avoid failure.

If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems. 
And that's a big mistake.
-- F. Wikzek

Punishing honest mistakes stifles creativity. 
I want people moving and shaking the earth and they're going to make mistakes.
-- Ross Perot

The difference between greatness and mediocrity is 
often how an individual views a mistake.
-- Nelson Boswell

Learning From Mistakes - article
The Meaning in Mistakes
5 Tips for Overcoming Challenges

1 comment:

  1. Just found this article: "How Struggling Leads to Learning" by Andrew Meltzoff and Rebecca Williamson