Learning from failure

I’m indebted to Phil Langton to pointing me towards an article by Steven Schwartz in Times Higher Education. The article, Get back in the saddle, explores the way in which failure and life’s knocks can lead to success in the future.

The theme is similar to that discussed in comments on a previous post of mine. I think it is certainly the case that we sometimes molycoddle our students. It doesn’t seem right to be deliberately hard or harsh in our grading or feedback, but I think we should be honest. If a student’s work is not up to the mark, we should tell them. It may be painful for all, but if the article is to believed (and it rings true) this approach may be just what is neededĀ in order to encourageĀ our students to succeed in the future.

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2 Responses to Learning from failure

  1. There are interesting shades to this. As you say, and we both have often argued, students learn through mistakes and so we shouldn’t indulge them when they do make mistakes. This actually makes me reluctant even to follow the common “Wrong answer, have another go for 90% of the marks” approach to formative assessments – I’d rather give them zero, with constructive feedback, and move them to another related Q.

    But just as important as helping students confront failure, we should reward them for identifying when they are uncertain (i.e. risking failure). We shouldn’t in my view deter students from using uncertain or partial knowledge in answering Qs (i.e. at least to some extent guessing). But it is tremendously instructive for them to think about whether and where there are ? marks and how big these are, when answering a question. This means CBM, of course! Acknowledgment of uncertainty is rewarded, confident errors are properly exposed and lucky guesses are not treated as if they were knowledge.

  2. Sally Jordan says:

    This is a very useful reflection Tony – many thanks.


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