Failure in inquiry

cross posted at tashacowdy.com

Last week a colleague posted this video clip on the class blog of a kindergarten child trying again and again to balance on a home-made skateboard. The episode was captured on an iTouch by one of his peers.


 
It followed on the footsteps of a post I read a while back in Inquire Within, written by Dan Magie, on Schools Should Be Places Where Students Can Fail, and another more recent post I read somewhere else on Why to let children fail and make mistakes. All of these posts prompted me to reflect on the importance of teaching children that failure is not only acceptable, but actually necessary for success. Inquiry, by its very nature, is about building on failures. In my Kindergarten class we often talk about how making mistakes is an important part of the learning process and I regularly hear children mutter to themselves or remark to a friend that they can learn from their mistake and “do a different way next time”. I wondered how deep this acceptance of failure went. I decided to ask the children more about their ideas on learning and failure.

  • Well you have to make mistake or you can’t fix it and if you dont fix it then it can’t get better.
  • When you make a mistake you need to have a strategy to solve the mistake.
  • That’s why it’s good to have a thinking partner, because your partner can give you advice.
  • But it’s not copying if your partner help you.
  • If you make a mistake you can learn how to do it right next time.
  • Sometimes builder and maker experts have to make the same thing like one hundred times before it works.
  • You need to have lots of models.
  • And you need another design if one design doesn’t work.
  • Like our shichi-go san bags! I had so many models but finally one worked!

There is a buzz of agreement as the children recall the shichi-go-san paper bag inquiry. We look again at the PhotoPeach. In the photographs the children’s frustrations are evident in their faces. The children are quite passionate as they discuss the PhotoPeach and recall their failures. However, they are cheerful and philosophical about the process and refer many times to their learning. I also remember very clearly the children’s frustrations at the time and I recall Yuri and my discussions together about how far to let the frustrations go before we intervened.

Sometimes it’s hard to step back and let children fail. But we need to help children develop as risk-takers and perseverers. We need to let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes; that’s part of the learning game. Inquiry can’t happen without failures. Regina Dugan asks the question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” and gives a rather lengthy (25 mins) but good TED talk on how, when you remove the fear of failure, impossible things suddenly become possible.

It’s understood that for us to have those really big wins, we’re going to have failures as part of that. Failure isn’t the problem. It’s the fear of failure that’s the limiting factor there. We have to push through.
Regina Dugan

And finally, a short clip from Myth Buster and maker Adam Savage on the importance of allowing children to create and make by failing and persevering.

“If you don’t get a chance to fail, if you don’t get a chance to try things and not get them right the first time, and you keep on doing it until you do get that specific kind of success, then you become so risk-averse that you in fact get an allergy to trying new things. And that is the worst thing we can do to kids.”

About tasha cowdy

PYP coordinator; Reggio inspired early childhood teacher; Workshop leader; Using technology to flatten classrooms; Involving parents in children's learning; Switzerland
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