Many articles seem to be being written these days about the need to teach our students how to fail. I particularly like this one from Australian writer Nikki Gemmell. As part of  my schools learning about The Habit’s of Mind we have all been thinking about  the importance of teaching our students to be  risk-takers. We realise that In this age of helicopter parenting and certificates for all, that we need to work to build resilient, strong students who see failure as a way to grow and learn.

This week was our Performing Arts concert, a chance for all the students to perform and shine on stage. On the day of our dress rehearsal Year 6 had to sit in a music room waiting for our turn for about thirty minutes. With nothing to occupy ourselves except a piano I called for volunteers to entertain us. Reluctantly a student took to the piano and played a pretty tune, competently without any mistakes. A further student repeated with another tune. Suddenly there were no further volunteers. “Come on I coerced them, its not as if it needs to be perfect, after all you have no music”. Reluctantly a girl came forward. She took her seat and began, stopped, missed a note, then began again. She stumbled through her piece and finished, to rousing applause. It was almost as if the applause was of her failure to play perfectly. Giving validity to her, for just giving it a go. Suddenly the room was filled with waving hands. As they all realised that it was okay to try, okay to stumble and okay to fail. That we just wanted to enjoy the music and the moment, that no one was going to comment, to sneer or to laugh at them if they just gave it a go.

I wanted to capture that same ‘have a go and fail’ attitude in a lesson. So using a picture stimulus from The School Magazine I asked my students to write an opening paragraph using only 100 words and then told them we were going to get messy with our writing. I called for volunteers to read their paragraphs out, warning them that I was going to critique their efforts in front of everybody. Not surprisingly it was the more confident writers who first volunteered first but when it became apparent that no one was immune from my ‘metaphorical’ red pen, more and more volunteers came forward. They began to see that not only was creating the perfect opening paragraph to a story in only 100 words hard but that getting ‘messy’ with our writing was fun. In that short time we were happily ‘Finding Humour’ ‘Taking Responsible Risks’ and ‘Persisting’.

I want to explore more ways for my students to fail. I want to find more ways for them to see that perfection is not always found first time round. I want them to see that they can’t all be winners all the time. But above all I want them to persist when the going gets tough and to learn from their failures and their mistakes.

What do you do to help your students learn from failure?

More blog posts you might enjoy:

Persistence does not equal failure from The Thoughtful Teachers Handbook by James Anderson


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