Embracing Failure in the Classroom Setting

Until you make a mistake, you won’t know it’s a mistake.  

It was my first year teaching Science. I had covered everything my 4th graders could possibly need to know for the New York State 4th grade Science test, or so I thought. While grading the test, I noticed a question about states of matter, one my kids should’ve been able to answer easily. After all, I had seen them distinguish and give examples of all sorts of solids, liquids, and gasses.

Never in a million years, it had ever occurred to me that the word “state” might be a problem. You can be sure, though, the next year I explicitly taught students that “states of matter” in Science refers to whether something is solid, liquid, or gas and not the US state where it is located! Had I not made that mistake, I wouldn’t have discovered something very important about my kids and about teaching.

 

How do I recognize when I’ve made a mistake?

One of the easiest ways to recognize teaching mistakes is to use a tool like Swivl to record your teaching. You’ll want to allow yourself a moment as you watch your recording to deal with the less relevant questions such as “Why did I wear…?” and “Does my voice really sound like that?” Sometimes, you’ll already know you made some type of mistake (especially if a student pointed it out to you), but often you won’t realize it until you see it on video (or listen to a recording of the lesson). 

Consider using questions such as these to guide your reflection as you watch:

(Click on image to download your own copy)However, watching and identifying your mistakes isn’t enough. You have to be able to get past any “I can’t believe I did/didn’t do that” embarrassment to be able to determine how you can adjust your teaching. Reflecting on your teaching in this way allows you to hone your practice and find what works best for you and your students.

 

Shift your classroom culture to embrace failure.

Transforming your own thinking to the Growth Mindset (rather than the Fixed) can do wonders in promoting reflective learning in the classroom.

In a classroom where the dreaded red pen dominates, students often fear making mistakes. Their goal is to make as few as possible and hope that the mistakes they do make aren’t noticed. Consequently, they don’t try new and/or challenging tasks because they worry about being wrong. In addition to admitting your mistakes and learning from them, there are several ways you can promote this thinking in your students. 

  • Praise process rather than genius
    • For example, “You persevered so well through that task, trying 3 different strategies before finding the one that worked for you,” as opposed to, “You got the answer correct on this hard topic, you must be good at this topic” (see Carol Dweck’s video).
  • Question rather than correct
    • How did you arrive at this answer? What was your thinking in this part?  What steps did you take to solve this problem? Why did you take this step? Is there a rule we have learned that we could apply here? How do you know?
  • Analyze errors
    • In her video “My Favorite No,” Leah Acala utilizes a document camera to capture and share incorrect student answers. She guides the students through an analysis: What went well in the problem, determining where there was an error, why it was incorrect, and how to go about correcting it. (This could also be done with an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive, etc.)

As reflective practitioners, it is our job to continually learn and grow from our mistakes, teaching our students to do the same. Think about how you can put this into practice in your own classroom. How can you set up or continue a classroom culture that embraces failure?

Written by Sharon Johnsen, @EdTech_Sharon

Google Classroom helps teachers centralize their digital instruction

The Challenge

The middle school teachers at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Staten Island (OLSS) were striving to ensure their students were future-ready. They were successfully assigning work to students on iPads, but they struggled with an interface that felt somewhat “clunky.” Realizing the need to better differentiate their instruction and continue to collect data on a regular basis, the teachers knew something had to change.

The Solution

While there is an array of programs out there, Jonathan Johnson, an instructional technology coach at Educate LLC, introduced them to Google Classroom. As coaches, we have come to find that GC is one of those tools that is an “instant win” for teachers and students alike. Not only does it make lesson preparation more efficient, it also tends to make the teaching more effective.  Utilizing Google Classroom supports students’ learning, because it pushes teachers to implement a variety of resources and assignments, rather than sticking to a “one size fits all” philosophy.

Google Classroom is a part of the G Suite for Education and is completely free for educational institutions. It works as an online platform (also available in apps for Android and iOS devices) and mimics the setup of an online course. Teachers can post classroom announcements, assignments, questions, etc.. In turn, students can utilize it as a “one stop shop” for all of their classroom resources. In conjunction with other Google Apps, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, GC allows students to work on assignments in and out of the classroom.

Google Classroom on multiple devices.

Google Classroom can transform instructional delivery and student practice.

The Outcome

As it turned out, GC was just what the teachers at OLSS needed, so much so that they are well on their way to paperless classrooms. (We all know there’s nothing worse than watching that copier in the staff room get jammed!) Students are able to utilize the platform independently and are finding it easier to submit assignments than ever before. The teachers at OLSS have seen a great increase in student engagement and excitement around learning. Teachers are beginning to take full advantage of the online nature of Google Apps, providing students with more choice and promoting collaboration on group assignments. They have even found ways to import/export data from various sites to/from GC, making progress-tracking extremely efficient.  

Make it happen in your classroom…

The Tools

  • Google domain for the school (can be applied for by school leader/technology expert)
  • Google accounts for teachers and students
  • Device (laptop/Chromebook, desktop, tablet, etc.)

The Steps

1.Work with your school leader or IT person to be sure that your school has a Google domain and Google accounts for teachers and students. If you do not yet have a domain, Google can walk you through the process here.

2. Familiarize yourself with the basic Google Apps: Google Drive and Google Docs. (As these work in conjunction with Google Classroom, you must have a basic understanding before setting up your classroom).

3. Set up your Google Classroom. Be sure to check posting permissions; most teachers prefer to set them to “Only teachers can post and comment”. Practice by posting a simple announcement and question for students to answer.

4. During class time, have your students join your GC by signing in with their Google account information and joining via “Class Code.”

 

Don’t forget that if you’re ever feeling a little bit stuck, or you just need a thought partner, feel free to reach out to us in our FB group, the Innovative Teaching Co-op!