Fail Forward, Move Forward

John Maxwell in his book Attitude 101 quotes a story from two artists David Bayles and Ted Orland about an art teacher who did an experiment with his grading system.

The ceramics teacher told the left half of the room that they would just be graded on the quantity of what they produced. If they had fifty pounds of pots on the last day, they'd get an “A,” forty would get a “B” and so forth.

The right half of the room would be graded on “quality” and “needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A.”

An interesting thing happened when it was time to grade.  The HIGHEST QUALITY came from the HIGH QUANTITY side of the room.  The author tells it like this:

“It seems that while the ‘quantity' group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality' group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than gradiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Ok, this is GREAT but is this what we do and encourage our students to do? Do we encourage FAILURE at anything?  Certainly we want students to MASTER subjects and to become good at them. However, perhaps there are certain subjects (i.e. movie making, art, creative artistry of all kinds and yes, even teaching) where we should encourage a quantity mentality.

John Maxwell goes on to say in his book,

“People naturally tend toward inertia. That's why self-improvement is such a struggle. But that's also the reason that adversity lies at the heart of every success. The process of achievement  comes through repeated failures and the constant struggle to climb to a higher level.”

So, how does this fit in with yesterday's post about the dangers of minimalism.  (Where I am pushing myself to be careful about trying to do too much).  I guess as I have this ongoing dialog with myself over getting the most out of this beautiful life, this yang for yesterday's yin also comes to me.

Sometimes giving my MAXIMUM means falling on my face. It is OK to fail AS LONG AS I LEARN FROM IT.  And really, sometimes things crash and they do mess up. We worked with Wallwisher at the Flat Classroom conference – it was too many on one wall and it crashed in a mess! We made a mess. And yet, we learned from it.  We became better.

These are the teachable moments that we can learn from. Behind the scenes on Digiteen 10-1 (this means the first Digiteen project of 2010 – there will be 3 in total) – we had several issues that happened – and we said “Teachable moments” and turned them into a time to teach our students – some of who really didn't understand that IM speak is rude to those who speak English as a second language!

But the bumps and bruises of learning can leave one wishing that one would “arrive” that some place a nirvana would swirl from the mist where no mistakes happened and where we could stand forth as the master of our space.  Well, the answer is that it doesn't happen this way.

There is a great quote in the 2010 Horizon Report that we shared as we kicked off the 2010 NetGenEd project today with our classrooms around the world.

“In a 2007 report, the American Association of Colleges and Universities recommended strongly that emerging technologies be employed by students in order for them to gain experience in ‘research, experimentation, problem-based learning, and other forms of creative work,' particularly in their chosen fields of study.”

Emerging technologies give us room to learn, experiment, grow and also to fail.  When my students created the areas on Google Lively and then had Lively shut down underneath them and then had to start from scratch in ReactionGrid – some very deep learning happened.  The deepest learning perhaps I've ever seen in my classroom.  It was the failure that taught them so much and it was the desire to dust off and get back up that taught them even more.

Failure has a place in my classroom.  It is hard, it is painful sometimes and it is hugely humbling (particularly when I'm the one who has a super bad crash on the bleeding edge) however, it creates the richness of learning that makes a good technology centered classroom world-class.

Fail Often, Fail Forward.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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5 comments

GilMattos March 10, 2010 - 1:58 pm

Fantastic post. as usual. Have learned loads here being a perfectionist myself. What’s the point?

Caren March 14, 2010 - 1:16 am

Great post! Failure is most definitely humbling, but it is a natural part of life. We can’t be afraid to try, right?

Write Essay March 14, 2010 - 9:16 pm

Perfect blog, thanks for sharing. I prefer quality work than quantity.

Andilynne March 16, 2010 - 11:41 pm

I totally agree with the idea of failing and learning from it, but as a perfectionist, I find it hard to do so even though I know the value of it.

speakEnglish August 4, 2010 - 1:23 pm

people who speak English as a second language always have strange and so weird ideas in their brain!!

Comments are closed.

The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere