Learning Disguised as Failure

At the essence of education is change. To educate children means to take them from one point in their understanding and development to a more complex and sophisticated point of existence. To educate is to grow learners.

When children approximate during the learning process they imitate, trying to grasp new learning in messy ways, often loosely recognizable to the desired skills. We think this is adorable in babies as they misspeak our language for babbles and goos. We call this the zone of proximal development with students as they need teacher scaffolds to move to the next level. As adults, we often deem our first attempts to approximate new skills as failures. But as educators we must push against that resistance.

Three years ago I completed a graduate project to integrate technology and 21st century skills of collaboration and communication into an existing lesson.  You can read a full description on ILA’s blog, Literacy Daily.  It was a mess.  The project when on for four weeks.  I was asking first graders to articulate how they know what makes good reading.  Their responses were robust and varied but the process existed beyond my control. I had to figure out the technology with recordings, audio, iMovie, and more.  Along the way it felt like a failure – but I had to do it – it was my final class project.

In the end, the project was so meaningful to my students I decided to do it again the next year. This time, I learned from my mistakes and made appropriate changes.  Then I accidentally deleted all the videos before publishing the iMovie.

On my third attempt this year I had the teaching part down.  I knew what worked with my students and I could give them even more ownership over the process. I collaborated with our school librarian to try a new app Green Screen by Do Ink to record.  After feeling out of control of the process when trying something new and completely deleting an entire 2 weeks worth of work I kept trying.

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My first graders produced a video beyond my expectations.

There is no destination to arrive at in the process of learning. We are never fully there. I had to fail to learn. As a result, students engaged in a processes where I as a teacher simultaneously searched refined and evaluated. To be learner in the failures of growth authenticates the processs for my students.