Teaching Failure

Everyone should check out this fascinating piece on Inside Higher Ed, about how to help students learn from failure.  The instructor reserves 5% of the final grade for ‘quality of failure’, assessed by a reflective essay at the end of the course.  Students are encouraged throughout the course to try out new ideas and to fail spectacularly, and to use those moments as learning tools for the entire class.

I love this idea.  Like many of us, I struggle with getting students who feel like they don’t know anything to participate in class.  My way around it has been to find ways to teach political concepts through individual experiences, pop culture, movies, and books and to create a comfort zone for discussion and to help students see the connections of politics to their real lives.  This is easier in some courses (like methods) than others.  For content-heavy courses, we still have to deal with the actual content, and getting students to feel comfortable engaging with ideas they do not quite understand can be rough.  Creating an environment where failure is institutionalized and rewarded sounds like a great way to overcome some of these problems.

The new semester started yesterday and in 25 minutes my first methods class meets.  I am sorely tempted to reserve part of their participation grade for this ‘quality of failure’ idea.  Its certainly a risk.  But as the author of the piece says, modeling failure ourselves through our teaching choices can be rewarding to the students, so perhaps this is a risk that will work out regardless of how it goes…