How do we teach effective failure?
A few posts and ideas from the internet have got me thinking about how to really make effective failure a more integral part of classes, and my own approach to improving my teaching.
“In the real world, most problems are not solvable exactly, and there are many competing demands. And you have to often change course in the middle in order to meet sociological issues as opposed to technological ones. And it’s very difficult for us to implement that in our teaching. But I think we do a much better job and a much better service to our students if we try and teach our students to fail more effectively.”
Similarly, everything I read about startups and the internet world tells me that learning to fail is one of the keys to success. In sort of classic tech startup hubris, the article presents this quote: “Failure lets you move on, mediocrity stalls you and keeps you from reaching your potential.”
Finally, Kara Kotter wrote a beautiful reflection on the value of failure in today’s edu180atlbeta. And she raises a great question? Where does the obsession with avoiding failure begin? And how are some people able to transcend it?
I don’t have a lot of answers, but I keep coming back to a couple of blog posts by Mark Hammond and Kelly O Shea about their efforts to make mistakes a more regular part of their physics classes. I think these are a great start.
One final thought about failure—I think we may need to reclaim the word failure. One thing that struck me today was how one student jokingly said “fail!” to another student when he made a mistake, in the very way that “fail” has become a sort of fun adjective to use poke fun at seemingly “stupid” mistakes that has become almost epidemic at my school and probably many others, thanks to failblog and other banalities. I’ve taken a pretty hard line against this in my own classroom (and yet this taunting still comes up), but I think I could do more to define and embrace effective failure in my classes.