Imagine if all the great inventors and scientists throughout history used failure as an excuse to give up. Would we have ever had electricity? The telephone? The airplane? The Internet? A cure for polio or other eradicated diseases?
Even the most successful individuals among us have failed at something in our lives. Persistence, adaptability and experimentation have enabled us to move past those failures to find subsequent success. Sometimes, however, keeping students motivated to try in the aftermath of a failure can be very challenging for teachers (and parents).
Students may interpret failure as being caused by an inherent lack of ability, in which case they won't be inclined to redouble their efforts so that they can succeed at a similar task the next time. If students attribute their failure to something that is inherent within their being, they are more likely to develop a pessimistic outlook that will thwart successful learning in the future.
Our approach to brain-based teaching and learning is based on the principle: Never question ability, always improve strategy. By teaching students that failure is a temporary setback that can be overcome by employing effective strategies for learning, we believe its possible for students to build a sense of mastery that drives optimism and self-esteem.
As Marcus Conyers and I explain in our book, 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning, the key is to help students feel good when they do well and hit the "save key" on their successes. Our approach is to guide students in building a success file filled with concrete and authentic academic achievements.
Children may learn pessimism from the media, movies, or significant adults in their lives. They often develop what motivational researchers call learned helplessness. After repeated failure, students who suffer from this problem decide they are not capable of performing well on academic tasks. Often they are not motivated to perform tasks at school because they feel they won't succeed. These students may seem negative or withdrawn, expressing little interest in school and having poor academic performance. Eventually they may even drop out of school, which is costly for themselves personally as well as for society as a whole.
The good, dedicated teachers and parents we know help students succeed by being partners in their learning. Teachers who have high expectations for each student who enters their classroom set the stage for success. By communicating the important message that all students can learn and succeed, and by helping students see the positive aspects of their efforts even when they fail, teachers make a real and important difference. You help students realize that learning takes effort, and by putting in the necessary work, they will be able to succeed at school.