Archive for June, 2011

Learning from failures in the classroom

The article “Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother?” by Joey J Lee and Jessica Hammer ( found in brought up an interesting point about the classroom environment. We all recognise that we learn best by trying constantly to improve over time. That’s how babies and children learn to walk, eat etc. That’s how many of us learnt a new sport. That’s how many of us pick up new hobbies.

Yet, in the classroom, where we could say there is the most to gain from learning, we do not reward students for trying. We are only interested in the product. Not the process. As the article points out, failure is integral to the whole experience of learning and mastering a game. That’s how we learn the short cuts, the tricks, the rules, and better our performance each time. Why can’t this be replicated in the classroom?

Guthrie JT (1996) in the article ” Educational contexts for engagement in literacy” (Reading Teacher 49(6) pg 432-445) suggested that schools should reward students for improvements made. How different that would be for the multitude of students in our classrooms. They will not be labelled by their performance in one high stakes test. Their performance will not be compared to those of of other students. ESL learners and students who have been disadvantaged in some way in their early learning years will have the opportunity to move forward with confidence because they are being judged on their present ability¬† as they develop their competencies.

The question really is how we allow for the individual’s needs to be addressed in an educational setting that wants to see accountability and results. Firstly, I believe it calls for greater faith in the ability, skills and professionalism of teachers – to recognise that they are the ones who know where their students are, what they need to leap ahead, and how to get this done. Secondly, we need supportive and involved educational administrators in the schools who can work with teachers and enable them to provide teachers with what they need, and to ensure students are challenged all the time to move ahead. Thirdly, we need to recognise that schooling up to the end of middle school must be developed for this kind of supportive environment where students can be academically engaged as they learn and improve in confidence. Leave high stakes¬†testing for the senior years when students are ready and aware of the repercussions of their actions, are more intrinsically motivated to reach for their goals.

Engagement in learning rises as students sense of self-efficacy develops. The supportive learning environment in which failure is seen as just another step in the learning process will give students the required confidence and intrinsic motivation to keep on trying.