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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Failure Is An Option

We've all had at least one of THOSE students. You know, the ones for whom anything less than an "A" is simply unacceptable. The ones who feel that because they have always been an "A" student, it is just not possible that they are doing "B" or "C" work in a class. It must be the fault of the _________ (book, teacher, course management system, the alignment of the planets, etc.). These students find it difficult to accept what they deem as "failure."

We've also all likely had many students who earned a failing grade on an assignment or in a course. In fact, I imagine we've all had our own turn at failing something!

A recent article in Faculty Focus entitled "Failure Is An Option: Helping Students Learn From Mistakes" made me reflect on what I do to help students learn from mistakes, whether that mistake is failing an assignment, missing a due date, or buying the wrong book.

One of the most successful strategies that I've implemented in my Principles of Accounting classes is to allow students to earn back partial points on missed exam questions. They must carefully and fully demonstrate to me that they do indeed understand missed questions. This not only is a strong incentive for students to learn from the mistakes they made on the exam, but it is also an opportunity to earn that "extra credit" that they often ask for. . .while, unbeknownst to them, they are doing something they should do anyway!

The article noted above provides a great example of an instructor who is considered by students and colleagues to be very "tough" and how that reputation "squares with" the fact that every one of his students receives earns an "A." There are also interesting comments here about gaming in education, and the article closes with this very intriguing suggestion: "Consider how to incorporate failure into your teaching in order to generate success."

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