Celebrating Failures, Humanizing Success in the Classroom

The world of education has long celebrated those who get the perfect scores and the highest academic awards. We rejoice and wonder in awe when we come across kid geniuses, often telling ourselves, that they will become the future Einstein or any other famous scientist and intellectuals. These kinds of remarks often put on a big expectation on kids. We expect them to get the highest grades, to always and be the first to recite in class, and of course, not to commit any mistakes because well, they are smart or genius. Medals and ribbons are given out to honour these students. One would always find their names on the list of honors.

 

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Schools often miss the point of why we celebrate success of students in the classroom. It’s not because these are kids are purely talented or born genius. Maybe, it’s because they strived hard and spent much time to practice and master the skills they are learning in the classroom. Maybe, it’s the fact that behind those great grades are countless mistakes that helped them learn in a much personal, engaging, and relevant way.

What if we, teachers and students, celebrate failures and mistakes committed for the sake of learning? What if we say “it’s ok, you did your best” or “it’s alright, you gave much effort” instead of simply saying, “that’s wrong” so that our students would not feel bad about their mistakes and instead, have the confidence to try learning for the better again? What if we make our classrooms safe places to explore, to fail, and to become successful?

Experience, the Best Teacher?

We often say experience is the best teacher. However, the way we see and do learning and teaching in the classroom say otherwise. There is only one experience, from the introduction up to the end of the lesson, and students are expected to have perfected the skills in that one experience. There is neither room for mistakes or failures, making sense and learning from one’s mistakes, clarification nor second chance.

Even our grading systems show how we focus on deducting points due to incorrect answers. We focus so much on the deduction that we forget to give relevant feedback. Some teachers would just write “-1 or -2” and a few feedback such as “Explain more.” We forget to focus on giving feedback that would help learners firm up or correct the skills or ideas we want them to learn.

Risk-taking is also an important aspect in promoting growth mindset. Students tend to shy away from taking risks because they are very well aware of the consequences, which normally point to point deductions, comparisons to others who have done well, or even simply, being ignored because another student had done better. Yet, risk-taking is needed in the real world. Indeed, there are consequences for the decisions we risk in real life and some of them can be really difficult to handle. Giving space or opportunities for risk-taking in the classroom does not aim for the students to perfect the act of taking risks so that there will be no mistakes or that the risk taken would always equate to success. We are actually letting them learn how to navigate the consequences so that they won’t get stuck on the mistakes and move on to do something better about it. Some students who have neither taken risk nor failed in the classroom find it difficult to manage the consequences of failures in the real world, which often result to some emotional challenges or issues that affect one’s well-being.

More than Words: Promoting Growth Mindset

What if we focus more on the growth that happens? What if we focus on the process and the journey more than the destination?

Promoting growth mindset needs to go beyond using kinds and encouraging words. These are helpful as they can encourage students. We can always tell them to do better and not to lose faith or not to give up.

However, we also need to design and to align all areas or aspects of learning to support growth mindset. For example, learning activities should give time for students to explore, to work with others, and to always go back and reflect on what they are learning. Reflective self-regulation skills should have a place in the classroom because these skills enable students to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas to improve on.

Rubrics that guide students to develop and master skills can be used instead of simply using a flat numerical grading that lacks explanation or descriptors. Better, relevant, and meaningful feedback should be given so that students are guided on what to improve on.

Teachers can also model growth mindset. We also commit mistakes in the classroom. Every once in a while, when we catch ourselves committing some mistakes, we can use these opportunities to tell our students that we too commit mistakes and that we use them to become better teachers to them.

We can also ask our students to mentor each other. Mentoring is about working together and becoming comfortable to receive and give feedback to each other. Having a mentor or a peer whom one can trust and is comfortable with allows students to understand and see themselves through the feedback of the other person.

Last, simply celebrate failure together. Celebrate small wins together. Celebrate every bit of learning together.

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Quest for a Relevant School Curriculum

In the 15th of May 2013, the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 was signed as a law, which made the Philippines as one of the last countries to adopt a K-12 system in the basic education years. This was a game-changer, not just for teachers, students, and parents, but for the whole country. The then newly adopted K-12 system brought a big promise of developing and forming productive future  members of the society that are ready to take the promises and challenges of a 21st century world.

 

Quick Look at the K-12 Philippine Curriculum

The K-12 curriculum strengthens the early education years and strongly integrates a mother tongue-based approach in teaching and learning from Kinder to Grade 3 years. It also bridges the core skills in the basic education years with the needs of college or university studies. Above all, it aims to make learning relevant to the learners, which is shown in various levels, such as personal relevance in terms of contextualization and personalization, societal relevance, in terms of integrating national and global issues, and of course, in terms of acquiring 21st century skills that can prepare students for the future.

Question of Relevance 

The K-12 was an incredible work from the Department of Education in the Philippines. It was more than a step forward. It was a big leap for the whole Filipino nation, I dare say.

However, the new K-12 system faced numerous challenges and problems, both in the local and national levels, which critically affected its effective implementation. Complaints about teacher readiness, not enough infrastructures and insufficient resources, and teacher compensation among others continue to plague the reform until now. These seeming unpreparedness in its implementation paved the way for a considerable amount of opposition from various groups of teachers, parents, government leaders, and even older students.

While bearing the same sentiments with the rest of the educators in my country, I also can’t avoid but to reflect on the effectivity and relevance of the new K-12curriculum. How relevant is the Philippine basic education curriculum now, given the fact that, with all honesty, the Philippine education system has been lagging behind the more progressive nations for years?

This quick reflection has led me to a more general and broader inquiry, what makes a curriculum relevant?

Quest for Relevance 

In its traditional sense, a curriculum usually refers to a carefully packaged list of topics and skills, learning areas, and syllabi to be taught in various disciples and grade levels. The definition of curriculum and consequently, curriculum design, systematically evolved throughout the years as teaching and learning faced new pedagogies, newer information and skills, and even literacies.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes a good curriculum as an essential aspect of learning as it instills in learners life-long skills and competencies, as well as societal attitudes and skills. UNESCO further points out that the relevance of a curriculum also depends on how it supports the learner’s personal development and not just on the academic skills area.

Hence, in checking for relevance, curriculum designers have to consider not just the competencies needed to be taught and learned. Competencies and academic skills must be updated to respond to the needs of the learner and to the demands of the future. 21st century learning skills must be fully integrated in the curriculum, across disciplines, and grade levels. New core competencies such as those in the Information and Communication Technology area, new literacies that focus on sustainable development, and life-long learning skills are to be seamlessly integrated in a relevant curriculum.

Current global and local issues must also be tackled deeply. Terrorism, human rights violations, threats to peace, equality vs equity, environmental issues, and many more issues plague our day to day lives. Yet, how often are these included in the day to day classroom learning? These are some of the key issues right now. A relevant curriculum should mindfully engage the students not just to be aware of these issues, but to take part in finding solutions to national and global issues.

Moving further, how are values integrated in a relevant curriculum? We talk about academic competencies, global issues, and life-long learning. Yet, values, personal, communal, or universal, play a major role in the life and decisions of learners. A relevant curriculum should enable students to clarify their values and to examine them in relation to their personal or the national aspirations.

Questions to Check Relevance

In my quest to examine relevance, UNESCO offers some great questions that educators and stakeholders can use to reflect in the quest for a relevant curriculum for the 21st century world.

1. What does the country/community want to achieve with regard to the personal development of learners and societal well-being and advancements? And how well the curriculum reflects that education vision? 

2. What are the mechanisms for making the curricula to respond to national development policies and strategies? Is there evidence that the mechanisms work effectively? 

3. How well are the key/core/cross-cutting competencies identified in the curricula aligned to education policy goals? Is there evidence that such key competencies have been at the core of curriculum development? 

4. How are education stakeholders (teachers, learners, private sector, civil society) involved in developing the curriculum vision and appropriate curriculum policies? Is there evidence of their involvement having made a difference? 

Finally, the relevance of a curriculum should be checked regularly and evaluated systematically, whether it has been responsive to the national education goals, policies, and new challenges that may arise. Hence, monitoring, assessment and evaluation of the curriculum should also be in placed and the data gathered should inform changes, revisions, and improvements in the curriculum.

Quite Personal Thoughts

If I were given the power to change school curriculum, I would add the following in the national curriculum:

    • comprehensive computer education and ICT skills integration that starts in the grade school,
    • STEAM and coding, the language of the 21st century, from Kinder,
    • UN’s Global Goals of Sustainable Development Goals as themes to be discussed across disciples and grade levels,
    • a more competency/ skill based approach to learning,
    • reinforce 21st century learning skills (4Cs) and the integration of the new  literacies, and
    • focus on strengthening the learning of Filipino language as a more dynamic language of progress and unity in the Philippines.

These are my wishes for now and I hope to influence not just school leaders, but the policy-makers.

Sources:

Department of Education. K-12 Features. Retrieved from http://www.deped.gov.ph/k-to-12/features

UNESCO. Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/strengthening-education-systems/quality-framework/core-resources/curriculum/