This article was written by guest author Julia Ewart. Julia is an experienced educator who has been working in educational technology for the last 8 years. She is able to inspire all types of educators to be innovative in their teaching approaches and curricular design. Julia is also a DC sports fanatic, dabbler of new recipes, and lover of sunshine!
Failure has a considerably negative connotation. But to me, failure is a beautiful word. It rates right up there with sunshine, sparkle, and joy. To me, failure connotes success.
My role as a teacher is not to “fill up an empty bucket” with ready-made knowledge or show how to get from point A to point B. Rather, my charge is to create the correct conditions (messy learning conditions) for students to create their own understanding. Every class, I deliberately provide time for guided discoveries and exploration with the expectation that students will “fail” at least once along the way as they demonstrate their learning.
When taking this approach, transparency is essential. Students need to understand that instead of providing answers, I usually ask another question. It’s not because I am mean but rather quite the opposite. It is because I care deeply about student success. Learning is most powerful when students construct their own understanding through problem solving, collaboration and making mistakes.
Does this mean that guidance or direct instruction does not have a place in the classroom? Of course not. At the right time and in the right dose, it can be very powerful to cultivate the foundational skills needed to take the next step in applying that knowledge to something greater.
Celebrating failure empowers students to take charge of their learning. Failure is an indication that students are in the midst of navigating through the messy process of learning. Failure is validating. When motivated students fail, it is an indication that they are being pushed and asked to grow.
In my lexicon, the words “tidy,” “neat,” and “right” make me cringe. If the process of learning is a straight line from beginning to end, how much do students get out of it? If, on the other hand, the process looks like a jumbled knot of a path, then rest assured learning has occurred.
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