Thursday, January 17, 2013


Anyone who knows me professionally knows that as a teacher, I'm fairly relaxed in many ways. There are some exceptions...listening, engagement, the treatment of others. These are areas in which I am very clear with my students - there is no messing around. On the other hand, my students know they can always joke wth me, talk with me, share concerns, struggles, and triumphs with me.

Another area my students - at least the majority - have always had a high degree of comfort with me in has been with succeeding and failing. In other words, my students know that my classroom is an okay place to fail. It means they are trying, experimenting, challenging themselves, learning. For this, I have always been proud. It is important to me that my students always feel this way.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because I observed something today with a few of my students that I found quite startling: for these few students, the fear of failure was absolutely crippling for them. Whether it was over properly writing a blog post, performing on a vocabulary test, or finishing a digital storytelling project, these students were in all sorts of varying hysterics. One young man seemed on the verge of tears; another could not move on to other work until he had quadruple-checked with me that he was going about his business the right way.

"Guys, relax. It'll be fine; trust me. We've been over this, you know what to do, just go with it. It's okay if it's not perfect, that's how we learn."

I believe some of this has to do with end-of-quarter/semester stress. Some students nervous about the vocabulary test hadn't done a great job preparing, and they knew it. Some students had not done a good job of keeping up with the blog writing, and now they're facing a deadline. This is why I'm liking my classroom mobile, digital, student-oriented: they get to be in control of so much of their learing and production, then deal with the consequences, both good & bad. Welcome to life!

The big-picture worry I have is this: too many kids - and then adults - are afraid of failure. Of putting themselves out there; of taking a chance. The crazy part is I really feel like our learning environment is very conducive to trial-and-error, but maybe I'm off on this. Maybe it's the nature of our newer grading system, with so much riding on summative assessments...but I do so much with formative assessments, practice and feedback most kids feel ready to rock and roll! I guess the students that are always tentative - are afraid to fail - will always need our support, encouragement, and consistent feedback. After all, the more they are able to pick themselves up and improve after falling down and failing, the stronger they will be in the future.

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