Failure Training and PDF

I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation on Challenge Success, a program created out of Stanford University's Graduate School of Education.  The program began in the hopes of fulfilling an educational need of informing parents and helping them work together with their children and their school to deal with the challenges of 21st Century education and life.

For some time now, it's been obvious to most educators, at least those that I've known, that our students and their school experience are not the same as what ours was.  I graduated high school in 2005, and things are already so different.  Some school rules at the time that I remember were no eating or drinking in the classroom, no chewing gum period, and no phones out ever.  We might have snicked in a bottle of Coke or chewed gum discretely if we were feeling like taking a risk, but we never let our teachers even catch a glimpse of our phones, if our parents even let us have one.  (I considered phrasing that last sentence, "if we even owned a phone", but the reality was that our parents were the ones that would have "owned" that phone, and they would have made sure we knew that!)  If you're a more experienced educator, the rules when you were in school were probably even more different than those of today.

I say all of this not to complain, but instead to emphasize that as educators we have to get passed what we think should be happening, and what could be happening if we learn to deal with contemporary high school students' lack of engagement in our lessons and constant engagement with their electronic devices and social media.  In the Challenge Success training, the presenter reminded us of things so simple that could help our students deal with stress and anxiety, like sleep and having friends that we talk to rather than just connect with via social media, and at times, she sounded patronizing and out of touch with reality.  Maybe that was her approach more than her message.

Nonetheless, a few points stand out to me still as I reflect on it from several days ago.  
1.) She spoke about creating a more balance schedule that includes playtime, downtime, and family time for our students.  While I can't control what happens at home for students, I can provide this support at school, specifically in my class, but also outside of it.  For example, I can give my students choice in how they complete assignments, and I can give them a chunk of time to use it as they wish within the content, based on their behavior and level of engagement with the content during the week--playtime.  I can give students mental breaks and time for questions, maybe even a time when they can ask me personal questions and I can do the same to try to make connections with the content to their lives--downtime.  Finally, I can give my students "family groups" that hold them accountable and provide them with support with the content and with stresses created from class, a group for them to go to with concerns and questions where they can regroup and reflect--family time.

2.) She also spoke about training students to fail.  Part of the stresses of school, college, family, sports, and beyond is the perceived threat to security that failure poses for our students.  They think if they fail in one thing, even if it's small, that they are failures and others will view them as such.  That one failure will lead to strings of failure until there's no hope at all for the future that they or their parents have envisioned.  Again, what I can do about this is provide a safe place for students to fail in my class.  I have a couple of ideas for this that I've started to do this year already, but I want to make more intentional.  1) I have allowed students to do retakes on quizzes and tests.  Those who take advantage of it generally do much better.  I think it has to do with feeling more secure about it the second time around, and also might have to do with the student just having a better day.  I also allow them to come in during Refuel (lunch block) to do it any day of the week, and I think this allows them the freedom to study and come on a day that they might not have much else to do, whereas the original test might have been on a day when they had lots of other things. 2) I would like to ask my students to intentionally answer things wrong so that they can see that everyone fails, and it's okay because in the real world, you do have the chance in many cases to revise your creation.

3.) Last, what stuck with me also was the idea that as a teenager, my students are pulled in many directions in a way that I, personally, never experienced in high school.  They have stresses coming from all angles, and I can do something to help them deal with these constant tugs on their time, attention, and effort by helping them plan a balanced schedule.  My students often wonder even weeks in advance when their next test or project is due, and I often can't tell them an exact date because it depends largely on how well and how fast the students in each block understand and can create with language--I'm a Spanish teacher.  So, I usually tell them something vague, like "not this week, probably next" or "probably just a short vocabulary/grammar quiz on Friday." Some of them are fine with this, but some are anxious at the open-endedness of it.  To help me and help the students feel more secure about it, I've begun to float the idea of providing students of each block with a huge blank calendar for the current month and the month ahead.  With the blank calendars, I would have students fill out big projects, tests, or games, or even absences due to doctor's visits or sports.  I could plan around their big tasks so that no everything falls on them at the same time.  I think it could be good for lower the rate of students who do poorly on summative assessments and in return lower how many students might feel like they need to retake.

This is a link to Challenge Success's research page, and you can navigate from there to other areas of interest by using the top tabs, like "teachers", "parents", etc. :


  1. This brings me back to our discussion of the modern student:


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