प्रतिनिधि – प्रभाकर बी.
दख़ल न्यूज भारत
How do we know when a student has successfully learned?
Images of learning are everywhere in popular media: students raising their hands, an aha! expression on a child’s face, an A-plus on a test paper, kids giving each other a high five when they get an answer right. It’s so simple to think of learning as another way of saying correct. After all, isn’t learning all about correct answers, correct approaches, and correct applications of new skills?
How teachers choose to approach learning failure thus has important implications for student achievement. Every learning failure, whether that failure is a misconception, an inefficient method for solving a problem, or an inability to remember a concept, can actually serve as a valuable opportunity for teachers to set students up for success, but only with an active commitment to inserting failure back into the learning equation.
The practice of embracing failure can take many forms. For example, teachers may begin by examining their own pedagogical content knowledge; that is, their own understanding of not only the academic content, but how best to teach that knowledge. And in this case, teaching correct content is not always enough. Researchers found that gains in student achievement were closely related to a teacher’s understanding of student misconceptions. Put another way, teachers who are able to predict what students might get wrong have students who perform better than teachers who only know what students should get right.
In addition, as I saw firsthand in Mrs. L’s class, embracing failure can also extend into the realm of social and emotional learning (SEL). Indeed, many of the skills and core competencies that fall within the SEL umbrella are directly related to how students individually and collaboratively handle failure. Problem-solving and perseverance, for example, cannot be sufficiently developed without working through experiences that involve failure, and having a safe classroom culture in which to fail is key. In fact, as we saw in the case of Mrs. L’s students, her dedication to embracing failure became the very motivator that encouraged students to persevere together, and ultimately, to succeed.
The Future of Failure
Does this mean that we should stop caring about correct answers? Absolutely not! After all, one primary goal of education is to help students develop all they need to become informed, productive, and happy citizens, and that requires the development of accurate and effective content knowledge and skills.
However, effective learning is about the balance of correct and incorrect, and also that remarkable gray zone in between — in which we aren’t too sure whether something is correct or incorrect, but we discover that we sure want to find out. Researchers are already beginning to explore this balance in greater depth: case in point, the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center (EPIC) at Teachers College, Columbia University. Established in 2018, the Center is building upon the work of Dr. Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, who published a widely-acclaimed study in which students performed better in science after learning about the failures of famous scientists such as Marie Curie. Today, researchers at the Center are dedicated to creating new theories and approaches to teaching and learning that harness failure as a catalyst for learning.