Help Students to Ultimately Succeed by Planning for Failure

High stakes assessments, IEP goals, summative assessments, extracurricular try outs, homework, the list goes on and on. From school age to adulthood, we are all faced with the challenge of achieving success. But what defines our success? Many state bureaucracies define success as achievement of SLOs, standardized test scores, SAT scores, etc. However, what truly defines any person’s success is their ability to learn from failure. Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure outlines ways by which parents and teachers can help students learn to fail. The importance of failure is not the act of failing, but how students learn from the failure.

Lahey discusses failure at a multitude of levels, but it all comes down letting go. Familiar examples include the parent staring at an abandoned homework assignment on the kitchen table, but leaving it there. Perhaps it is the teacher circulating the room, noticing a particular student has completed only one response on a test. Paternal and educational instinct is to swoop in and save the day. Yet Lahey boldly calls to parents and educators to let the students and children fail now and learn from this experience as a step towards future success.

How can educators help students learn to embrace failure? Plan for it! Systematic plans to embed opportunities for failure will support student success. The following tips provide simple ways to incorporate lessons of failure into your plans that will encourage students to challenge themselves.

1. Self Reflection

Use assessments and assignments as an opportunity for self reflection. If students fail an assignment or assessment, allow them to first fail the assignment. However, if the students are unhappy with their failure, give them an opportunity to learn from it. Teachers are using self reflection worksheets as an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they learned from failure and to earn a second chance at taking the assignment or assessment. Of course, this does not mean to give the same assessment/assignment – give them an alternative assessment. It is up to the teacher regarding how to incorporate the new grade, but the most important part is teaching students to reflect upon their failure and to learn from the process. Use Planbook Plus to house your own self reflection worksheet and even append your own template that includes an element indicating an opportunity for self reflection.

2. Introduce Failure into the Classroom

Lahey explains in the book that parents cannot simply begin the process of leaving their children’s homework at home when previously they saved the day by delivering their child’s homework. A conversation must take place concerning this change in the parent operating procedure. Teachers need to follow the same logic. Discuss failure in the classroom and how it impacts everyone. Role model examples that show teachers fail to and explain the lessons learned. After discussing failure as a class and how it can benefit everyone, implement classroom expectations that incorporate failure. For instance, “be prepared” not only means bring all materials to class, but there are consequences for coming to class unprepared. The important part of the consequences is attaching a lesson to those consequences. Take an opportunity to use Planbook Plus to create a lesson regarding failure. Search the standards available and find one that ties to your lesson!

3. Embrace Classroom Opportunities to Fail

Failure occurs in US history, world history, literary texts, math, biology, chemistry, and nearly every subject taught. Take an opportunity to find a moment in your upcoming lesson of which failure occurs. Perhaps it was when Columbus embarked upon a brand new continent. Maybe it is when a scientific discovery was made! Failure has brought about some of society’s greatest achievements. Discuss this with the class.

Failure also occurs naturally. Consider the time that the one typo made it through the copy machine and the first student to notice it raises their hand to point it out. A quick discussion on what the teacher learned from this models what reflection should take place for the students. In math class, a student participates by completing a math problem on the board, but fails to show her work. Take this as an opportunity to discuss the importance of showing every step of the process while the student comes back up to the board to insert her work. Planbook Plus allows teachers to create a custom lesson plan that centers on failure. Teachers can also use the elements provided to teach district curriculum, and then add a custom element to embed a lesson of failure within the lesson!