You either succeed, or you fail.

Many take this viewpoint when it comes to effort, forming the conclusion that you can only do one or the other. What’s often omitted from the discussion on success is the promise that failure makes, the many lessons it teaches, and the motivation it produces. An essential component of the learning process, failure is too often overlooked as an unfortunate setback, instead of embraced as an opportunity to progress. Within education, we’ve done it all wrong. Greeting students with “F” grades and low marks, failure is portrayed as a disappointment, and a major downfall in their development. So how can we help our students to reach for failure as a stepping stone towards success?

Responding to Failure

How we respond to failure is the key to re-evaluating its place within the learning environment. Instead of looking at failure as a flag that something isn’t working, look at it rather as a sign that something is working. By treating failure as a valuable teaching tool, you can get the insights you need to respond in the best possible way.

1. Attitude

Educators often make the mistake of reacting to failure with disappointment and anger. A sad face, a red “F”, a giant zero – each portrays disappointment in its own unique way. Students react to these emotions with embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, and discontent. By taking a more positive approach to failure, students are encouraged to continue working towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, and to give it another go.

2. Time

A luxury most educators don’t possess, but something that makes a lot of difference when it comes to learning. With a lack of feedback comes a feeling of resentment as students begin to see themselves as undervalued and unimportant. Taking the time to address the key lessons that can be learned from failure motivates students to take the steps outlined, and to strive for better.

3. Support

If support isn’t continuous or consistent, it’s ineffective. As students continue along their learning paths, the support that they receive is what keeps them going. This means that a continuous support system throughout is essential. Without this, students who continue to fail will see no point in going through the whole process again, if they are sure to go it alone.

4. Focus

Along with the time that good feedback demands, even more important is the focus. Without focusing on each and every student, one at a time, the value of feedback is lost, and no lessons are learned. By personalizing your feedback and assessing where exactly each student is struggling, you can provide a clearer picture of where to go from there.

While responding to failure in this way may seem like a challenge, adaptive technology makes it as simple as possible. With the tools to view student progress on a continuous basis, a consistent support system to guide them, and instant feedback options, students are guaranteed your time, support and focus. Within a personalized learning environment, every student feels valued and motivated to progress. Fishtree takes the taboo out of failure by assessing students on a continuous basis, with a quick and painless “try again” option to greet them at every obstacle. Students progress through demonstration of mastery rather than units of a textbook, providing the personalized experience that each deserves. With all that taken care of, all that’s left is an attitude adjustment.

Want to help your students to succeed? Then help them to fail.

How would you encourage students to embrace failure? Share your ideas with us on Twitter, or leave a comment below!

About the author:


Lorna Keane specializes in language teaching and has taught in second and third-level institutions in several countries. She holds a B.A in languages and cultural studies and an M.A in French literature, theory and visual culture. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

Image credits: Chris Potter / CC BY 2.0