Monday, July 16, 2012

What does failure mean?

I've been thinking a lot about failure and what it means to fail at something.  Several situations have made me really examine my beliefs on failing grades.

*Earlier this month a family member shared their little girl failed swimming lessons because she wasn't able to open her eyes underwater.  After the family member shared her story she said, "I don't want her to be a failure."  I thought is being able to open your eyes make you an effective swimmer?  Because their little girl (she is only 4 years old) failed to open her eyes, in my opinion she by no means is a failure, but only needs more practice. 
*In a class I was teaching to pre-service teachers, we got into a debate about late homework. A pre-service teacher shared part of a student's grade was being able to hand the work in on time as we are grading their responsibility as well.  Is classroom homework a reflection of what a student has learned or what a student is able to complete with responsibility behaviors attached?  Is the classroom grade a real reflection of what the student knows? 
*I failed biology as an undergrad, mind you; I was a biology major.  I did not apply myself or work to my potential. I was not motivated to learn anything about ribosome, DNA, or other biologically terminology.  Am I considered a failure? At the time I felt like one, but what did failing teach me? It taught me I needed to really pick a major and career path I completely enjoyed and be motivated to do my best and grow professionally within it.
*Asking a few family members and friends about what failure means to them, brought similarities to my own thinking. Some said if they failed at something it meant they did not try hard enough.  Others said they were not motivated enough to achieve the goal.

In schools we fail students when they do not meet our expectations, either behaviorally, socially, and/or academically.  Is it fair to fail a student if they hand in their homework late?  And what if they never hand it in? Are they really learning the material then?  When and how do we truly know a student has learned the material? Only when they past our assessments or when they are able to remember the information at the end of a semester or a school year, or for the rest of their lives?  Maybe if we look at our definition of success, we will be able to define failure.

I don't know all the answers about failing and passing students, nor do I feel I have a supported opinion either way at this point. I am however going to think about what I grade, how I grade it, and what it really shows the students are learning.  More reflecting and reading required to fully understanding this educational concept, and yet I may never come to a clear answer.

1 comment:

  1. You know me, always got an opinion!
    I think it comes down to what is the big picture: the trees and the forest. Educators shouldn't just think of the end goal of "Student's must master the addition of fractions", but more think, why? The bigger picture is that in order for them to be successful people in today's world, they need to know that skill. You can't sew, do carpentry work, or shop without being able to know your fractions. It makes getting through life easier. That being said
    The other thing to realize, for teachers, parents, and students of all ages is that a failing grade just means you haven't mastered the skill YET. Failing is inevitable and essential. Inevitable because no one's perfect, and essential so we can learn. We put so much negative connotation onto it, and give it such finality, so that we believe no child should fail. But school, being relatively consequence free, is just the place to practice "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" That is a life skill schools are failing at by teaching kids to fear failing, or not allowing it to happen.
    If students hit the real world at 18 or a little later, and run up against difficulties, they have to be prepared. The same goes for lates. A boss won't give lates, there are consequences. Better a student learns this in school.
    IMHO, because I'm no expert. Just focus on each tree, but keep in mind the forest!