F = Failure or F = Feedback

What does failure mean to you?  What opportunities does failure present to you?  I recently had a conversation with one of my teachers who is working towards her bus license.  She made a comment to me that she was working very hard to pass the test, but felt as though she was probably going to fail the first time.  Instead of fearing this failure, she was ok with it, and stated that if she failed she would learn exactly what she needed to work on for the next test from this failure.  The first thought that went through my mind was… WOW!  Failure = Feedback and an opportunity to learn?  Now that’s a different frame of mind and one that excites me to no end.

However, how many of us truly view failure in this light?  How many of us give our students F’s on assignments, tests, and report cards with little to no good feedback?  How many of us give F’s and then just permit the student to move on with very little to no understanding, and give no further opportunities to demonstrate understanding or learn the concepts?

Imagine a business world where failure was an option.  A world where if you didn’t understand something, or were unable to perform up to expectations, you were either immediately fired, or worse just permitted to continue on without ever having to learn it.  Our lives would be completely different, and many of us would be searching for work at this very moment.  Life does not permit failure on a daily basis.  Life requires us to learn and, if we struggle, to continue trying until we understand.  Why isn’t school like this in every classroom?  Why is it that many educators continue to hand out F’s to their students when they fail to learn a concept and then allow them to move on without mastery, or worse don’t even permit the student to try again?  What are we teaching our students with these philosophies?

I believe that an F should no longer equal Failure.  Instead let’s create a system where F = Feedback and further opportunities to learn.  Let’s change the F together.


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  1. #1 by Trace Pickering on September 25, 2012 - 11:48 am

    Well said, Josh. We have to get away from the crazy way we have inherited this notion of grading in schools. It was designed for colleges to effectively weed out students. That is not our job in K-12. As you state, everywhere else we are allowed to learn and grow from failure. Yes, we all have timelines and aren’t allowed to repeatedly fail in our work but in schools we have come to erroneously accept a “one-and-done” approach. On one hand it is understandable as we operate in a system that is designed on the standardized assembly-line model that makes mastery and competency-attainment very difficult for teachers to manage as the system isn’t designed to support it. Schools like Solon and others are taking this on and learning through prototyping what else needs changed in the system to support it.

    Learning, not work completion and effort should drive our work. Keep up the fight! Please let us know what resources IowaTransformED.com can provide you as you help your staff and community move towards a system of learning!

    Trace Pickering

    • #2 by joshngriffith on September 30, 2012 - 3:38 pm

      Trace, thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. I completely agree with you and would like to add that I think you have just inspired my next blog post about systems of learning vs current reality.

  2. #3 by Jeff Watson on September 27, 2012 - 8:27 pm

    Thought your analogy of a business world with no feedback presented an interesting way to think about our system for defining student performance.

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