A Chance to Fail

According to the Huffington Post, Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, and (my personal favorite) Blink, offered this at the ongoing National Educational Computing Conference:

We are afraid of failure, but it is through failure that students learn. Perhaps we should change our assessment system to allow students to make mistakes without the stigma of failure.

There’s a lot more to this address but, at the risk of taking his words out of context, I can’t help but wonder if this is yet another thing that Critical Skills Teachers know how to do better than anyone. We understand that, in order to fail without becoming a failure, kids need to feel safe, respected, challenged and supported. They need to learn how to reflect on their process and their results in order to learn how not to fail next time. We know how to build the learning communities that do this, and how to create the instructional experiences that create and maintain those learning communities.

What I challenge, though, is Gladwell’s assertion that we need to change our assessment system. I don’t know that that would be the best place to put our energy- unless he’s talking about our classroom assessments. The daily assessment experience of students- the formative assessments that we use when we check in on process, the nuanced intervention with just the right amount of information, the carefully worded question that guides a student towards a better choice- these are the places where our attentions should lie. When others start to recognize what Critical Skills Teachers know- that instruction, coaching, and debriefing are all part of the process and that each part must be supported intentionally, with integrity and respectful rigor- then we’ll start to see kids who aren’t afraid to fail, but who really know how to succeed.


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