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Monday, January 20, 2014

Productive Failure

There has been a lot of buzz about teaching failure in education lately, so I'm sure you've thought about how to incorporate failure into your instruction. Not all types of failure, however, are useful for growth. So, how do you incorporate productive failure into your instruction?

Outcome failure is simple to evaluate; the end result fails. Put in education terms, the student fails to complete the task properly or demonstrate understanding in an assessment. Process failure can be more difficult to assess. In process failure, the outcome may be achieved, but the way the student got there is flawed in some way. To assess process failure or success, the teacher must evaluate not just the end result, but the steps along the way. In order to have both outcome and process success, the student must go through an iterative and reflective process.

Iteration is a term used in many design fields, and it means simply (in my words) to try, fail, fix, repeat. After watching the music video by OK Go, 7 year old Audri was inspired to create his own Rube Goldberg machine and documented his failures and success.

 Manu Kapur's research on productive failure shows that, when guided, students are able to demonstrate understanding of difficult concepts better than students who were either allowed to fail with no guidance, or students that were in a more controlled environment. The process of learning productive failure builds stamina, perseverance, analysis, critical thinking and creativity; skills that are difficult if not impossible to teach, but must be instilled and nurtured.  In the Choice Literacy article linked by the principals this month, the author reinforces the idea that research is a great arena for students to experience productive failure. As students go through an iterative process like research or making a Rube Goldberg machine, have them document their process along the way and reflect on it. If you need ideas about how to incorporate reflection into an iterative assignment, take a look at this article from School Library Monthly.