Failure is such an uncomfortable topic in education. We are very failure adverse and consequently risk adverse. It is often seen as unacceptable for students to fail and this avoidance of failure is not mirrored in the real world beyond the safe environments of the school.
I believe that we must use failure or getting stuff wrong as a tool for learning, that we must accept it as a part of the learning process, that we must use it to progress and develop. We should and must strive to succeed, but we need to allow opportunities for students to learn from their mistakes and in fact to provide opportunities for them to make mistakes.
Getting stuff wrong is a natural part of learning and growing. Getting stuff wrong is how we learn.
Consider the analogy of a person getting fitter and exercising. To develop more muscle tissue you must place that muscle under stress, this stress cause damage which is stimulate the grow and repair of the muscle. It is only by pushing limits that the muscle grows and develops. The same can be said for learning push the limits, apply stress to challenge and stimulate growth.
The trick is of course how much stress to apply. How hard to run, how big a weight to lift or how challenging a learning task.
Priest in his book on adventure theory describes the relationship between risk and competence. The area of peak learning or peak adventure is that match between competence and risk. This is based on Vygotsky’s Zone of proximal development.
Peak adventure involves getting it wrong, it involves making mistakes and failing, but more than that it involves learning from our mistakes.
In making mistakes and failing in an environment where you can develop and learning. Where the risks are managed so that catastrophe is avoided and learning occurs. This is part of the true art of teaching. taking our students from their current level of achievement or competence and pushing them into the zone of development. In outdoor education, this is a practice so natural and obvious as challenged based education is the norm.
Part of education is preparing our students for the world beyond the classroom. A world where they will fail, they will make mistakes and they need to have the skills to be able to recover and learn. They need to be resilient, adaptable and reflective. They need to see failing or getting it wrong as part of a process to mastery. They can not go out into the world unprepared and unable to cope with what life throws at them. When you talk to and listen to the top achievers, the high flyers, the world class athletes (both physical and mental athletes) they will all say the same. Life has its ups and downs and to succeed you work (battle) through these. You push beyond your limits out of what is comfortable and why? Well this picture sums it up….