Learning through Failure, with the Right Conditions

To let children fail or not to fail? There has been a lot of philosophical debate in educational circles about this essential question. Given the increase in “helicopter parents” who are monitoring every move their child makes, the let-students-fail approach is gaining traction. At times, students need greater autonomy and a chance to build upon the connection between actions and their consequences. Learning lessons in a safe environment will help them when they begin their careers and apply lessons learned to real world situations. But with any swing of the educational pendulum, there are multiple perspectives to consider, each with their own repercussions. For when students fail, they also need to be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. For example, if a student did not prepare for a test properly, there may be educational value in allowing him or her to retest and revise work, thus learning materials that may be necessary for future units of study. The same argument could be made to encourage students to complete work that is late and earn reduced credit. Teachers may even want to offer special study hall periods when students can finish overdue assignments or receive help with concepts they haven’t quite mastered as quickly as their peers. And for students who are struggling with their grades but would like the chance to earn better marks, teachers may consider optional assignments for extra credit—particularly if they can be differentiated in order to tap into a student’s particular interests and develop an intrinsic motivation to learn.

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Will students still fail from time to time? Yes. And could short-term failures prove to be beneficial in the long run? Yes. But there are also times when students need to be given the chance for academic redemption. And with these carefully constructed safety nets in place, failures in the short term can become successes over the long haul.                                           


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