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When failure is not OK

Posted on: August 8, 2017

Some say that FAIL is an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. So we should encourage all students to fail if they are to learn, right?

Not always. I distinguish between encouraging failure and helping those who fail.

Leveraging on failure should be about developing resilience and a mindset of strategic risk-taking. It is about nurturing these attributes when a learner fails, not about helping them fail.

I state the seemingly obvious — it is not about helping them fail — because I know of teachers here who still set extremely difficult test or examination questions as they do not want students to be over-confident. They are setting students up to stumble face first into humble pie.

There are times when failure should not be the option. Too much might demoralise. Too blind is just ridiculous. This last one is best illustrated in this tweet.

Why follow in the footsteps of others before you and repeat exactly the same mistake? This is unnecessary failure.

Sure, kids stumble all the time. But transfer this idea to learning something that is challenging or planning and implementing systemic change.

No effort is going to be perfect, and you want to learn from mistakes. But you would be foolish to go in monkey see, monkey do, monkey fall off the tree.

It is unethical to intentionally set students up to fail. It is ludicrous if you fail to see why you should NOT maintain this blind practice.

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