Thursday, March 31, 2011

Failure is a part of success

In this video Michael Goodwin proposes that without failure, success loses its meaning. I've certainly heard this message for years from my father, who is a high school biology teacher. Over the 25 years he's spent at his school, I've heard him rant countless times about pressure from parents and even school administrators to award As and Bs to all his students - even those who haven't earned them - so they'll have good-looking transcripts for college. The result of this, he points out, is that those grades become meaningless. And what's more, the grading system is no longer a motivation for students to succeed. Why offer grades at all if they're all the same? Furthermore, I'd argue that this issue starts long before the classroom. When I'm playing with my housemates' two-year-old, I frequently feel compelled to intervene before she does something silly. "You can't fit your dolls into that box! It's too small." "You can't wear that shoe! It's too big for you." But I try to restrain myself from offering these comments. She learns much faster from trying - and failing - to do these things than she does if I tell her what to do. Yesterday I watched her trying to make a tower out of a set of nesting plastic cups. She didn't understand that she had to stack the cups according to size in order to make a tower. But I said nothing and watched her try and try. She gradually observed that if she put a small cup first, the larger cups just covered it up. After several minutes of trying she rearranged the cups and successfully built a tower!

When I tell her what to do, in order to prevent failure, she usually gets upset and loses interest in the activity. But when I let her figure it out on her own, she feels accomplished and proud. Working through failure increases learning at all stages of life and is necessary to really learn from success.

by Sara Kate Kneidel

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