Thursday, April 29, 2010


My writing students are starting a retroflective paper about their learning this semester and this year, so today we did some brainstorming about their learning.

I asked them to make a list of the important things they've learned this year, and, as you'd expect, time management and related skills were very high on the list. (They do their own list; then we discuss the lists together.)

So then I asked them to think about how they learned what they'd learned, and then we discussed the how part. Then I asked them, what could we at the university do to help students learn these skills more easily.

And they pretty much came to the conclusion that they couldn't have learned the skills without failing, and not only failing, but failing miserably. Most of them said, yes, people had talked to them for years about time management, but until they failed miserably in some way, they hadn't really worked things out or learned whatever it was. Some of them turned from their failures to strategies that someone had taught them before, and were able to use those strategies then, but only after they'd experienced enough failure to choose to use them.

It's interesting, seeing them think about the value of failing, and having not been "allowed to fail" through K-12 stuff mostly.

And then, of course, after class, a student wanted a chance to revise a revision again because s/he hadn't followed directions the first two times. Failure is always better when it's in the past tense, I guess.


  1. that sounds like such a productive exercise. and i have to agree that adults learn the most when they fail and have to figure out where to go from here. that is a huge lesson.

    your students likely came in with a lot of skills and accomplishments, and the heady feeling of being on their own and in charge. their parents and former teachers are probably among the people who have said: do your homework, get enough sleep, get up on time, make revisions, make your deadlines. their classmates are probably at least equally skilled, which takes down the "i'm special" feeling a notch or two.

    seems to me that they are learning important things, aside from the actual content of the class.

  2. I like this exercise -- and now I'm wondering how to adopt it.. thanks!

    I also agree with your students about failure. What really worries me about my CC is that they are so focused on "student success", that they don't seem to see that failure is part of success.