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Primary work

Failure as a catalyst for learning

Some people are afraid of heights, while others are terrified by spiders, but perhaps the most common fear that humans have is the fear of failure. It’s that one thing that has the ability to immobilise us emotionally, make our stomachs feel queasy and induce panic all at once. As part of our learning in school, children fail and make mistakes and slip-ups all the time. So how should we deal with failure in school?

Some people are afraid of heights, while others are terrified by spiders, but perhaps the most common fear that humans have is the fear of failure. It’s that one thing that has the ability to immobilise us emotionally, make our stomachs feel queasy and induce panic all at once. As part of our learning in school, children fail and make mistakes and slip-ups all the time. So how should we deal with failure in school?

 

We should embrace it.

 

There are many reasons why one might choose to see failures and mistakes in a positive light, but the simplest is this: mistakes happen and they happen a lot and the classroom is not immune from this. Children are going to make errors all the time during their school day, but we explain to them that these mistakes are the evidence that they are learning.

 

When something doesn’t go to plan, whether it be coding with Lego in the robotics lab or juggling with different pieces of information to solve a math problem, our students understand that they need to adapt and alter their thinking and try something else.

Science has shown that there are dramatic physical and chemical changes that take place in the brain when children learn. More importantly, they learn how failure plays such a key part of making new pathways and connections in the brain.

 

Michael Jordan, considered by some to be the greatest basketball player ever, famous said the following about failure. “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

By allowing children to see the messy experience in failure, we help them to understand that they can make mistakes and get stuck but that they are resilient and resourceful enough to re-group and try again.

 

And again.

 

And another dozen times if necessary. This is the process that helps them to be creative, innovative, emotionally robust and all of the other tools that will serve them well after that tricky math problem or science fair project is a distant memory.

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