What happens when you work hard, put in good effort, and don't achieve the results you desire? What happens when you think you have done everything as well as you could, and in the end you failed to achieve your goal?
Step 1 - ASSIGN BLAME! -- You get frustrated, upset, typically we react with some form of emotion. We may blame others and deny our role in the failure. I will admit that I have experienced both sides of this as a teacher. I have definitely been blamed for students not achieving their goal, and I have been frustrated at students when they didn't accomplish a task the way I thought it should be done.
Step 2 - REFLECTION OF LEARNING PROCESS -- This assumes people get beyond step 1 of assigning blame.
After you realize that you have failed where do you do next? You still have a goal unfulfilled. Now before you try to do the same activity the same way and expect different results, I believe is similar to the definition of insanity, it is time to reflect. Think about what happened. Start with what was your objective or goal? Next consider the actions you took and the results that you achieved. Ask yourself, did you understand the goal or objective, was it obtainable or did you need assistance? Did you use every resource available to you to achieve your goal? Where did you go wrong?
Step 3 - REVISED PLAN OF ACTION -- Now that you have uncovered areas that could have gone better, it is now time to create a better plan of action. If you still have the same objective or goal, what will you differently to achieve this goal? Does it mean asking for clarification, or help from others. Does it mean finding resources or asking questions? For the teacher - it likely means reteaching the lesson, or adjusting the directions to clarify for the student. It means taking ownership of the areas that you didn't measure up. It is the ability to admit where you need to make your changes and own your failure.
Step 4 - IT IS ONLY A FAILURE IF YOU END THE PROCESS - Failure is part of life. I helped my daughter learn to ride her bike this summer, and there were more failed attempts than I can count. If after any one of these failed attempts she had quit, given up, she never would have achieved her goal. Her summer might have ended with a different feel. Instead she picked herself up, dealt with the bumps and bruises and she and I came up with a better plan to help her ride down the street without dragging me behind her.
This week I had my share of failure. I gave one class of students a test, and when I looked at the results, I realized I failed them. I didn't provide adequate instruction for them to understand the material in a deep or meaningful manner. They took the test, and struggled with some of the ideas that I thought we had covered well. What I found is they didn't have a full grasp of the knowledge. The first thing that crosses a teacher's mind might be to simply blame them for not studying enough. When I saw the overall results were low, I realized, while their individual preparation may be questionable, I am accountable for the class's results.
What do you do in this situation? I looked at how I taught the material, and while I did a lot of activities, and created opportunities to engage in the learning and understanding, they missed some of the ideas. My plan - reteach the lessons. I spent the next two days focused on teaching the main concepts, going over readings, quizzing them and checking their understanding. After two days of reteaching, I retested them on the content. The results while not perfect, were a significant improvement. My most important take away is to take more opportunities throughout teaching the material to check for understanding. I need to do more formative assessments where I check and recheck their knowledge, then adjust my instruction accordingly.
My second example came with my freshmen world history. A few weeks ago I asked them to present a position to members of the school board, and was amazed at how well things went. Maybe this positive result created a false sense of accomplishment and understanding, because today that bubble burst. I asked students to do another significant critical thinking exercise. The premise behind this was to persuade elected officials to vote for their position. In order to demonstrate their idea, they had to compare neanderthals to humans.
Here is why I and the students failed - I made the assumption that they knew how to create a comparison paper, and they didn't ask for clarification or help when they began to struggle with the task. I didn't provide adequate instruction to them about how to write a paper where they compare and contrast two groups. They can tell you how they are similar or different, but to take the next step of turning that into a persuasive argument eluded them.
Next step - revise instructions- I took the opportunity to discuss this issue with them before I graded any of their papers. We discussed together what went on, and the issues of communication between us. I then laid out a plan to revise their papers to include a better representation of their ideas and a better end product.
Now I also have revised expectations. If I had provided the revised instructions, and had the conversation about their level of understanding of how to create a comparative essay before starting the lesson, I would expect higher level of written expression. As my assessment presentation is flawed, I need to adjust for the likelihood that students are going have a better comparison, but they will likely still struggle with the connection between the comparison and their thesis.
Lessons learned from my failure -
1. I need to teach the skills necessary to demonstrate or present the content, not just the content. I have to include some sort of pre-assessment to determine their level of understanding of the skills or technology being used to assist their demonstration of understanding. In this case, I assumed they understood how to write a comparison paper. They demonstrated the ability to make comparisons, the issue was with their understanding of how to connect the ideas of similarities and difference, to their thesis.
2. I may have to provide more in class, guided instruction where students create their products. I was checking in with students frequently when they did their presentation topic, and for this paper, I only worked with them the first day and then turned them loose.
3. Be Reflective, seek help, and be receptive to criticism. No one likes to hear that they didn't measure up. No one enjoys failing. So when faced with a challenge, you can either continue to do it the same way and wonder why you or your students haven't achieved the results you want, or you can ask the tough questions. Be prepared for the sometimes harsh realities. In the end if you are serious about achieving a goal, you have to open yourself up to hearing you could have done better.
4. Failure is a learning opportunity. We are too quick to dismiss it as a total and complete loss. There are people would would say the Packers' reaching the NFC championship to only lose to the 49's is a total waste of a season. Some are too quick to discard the learning and enjoyment the experience up to the point of failure brought. Fail = First Attempt At Learning! Please don't be discouraged with failure. Don't let that first attempt be your last attempt!