Helping Students Fail Forward

Author and speaker John Maxwell has written a number of books about success. One of my favorites is Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success. In the book, Maxwell shares stories of a number of prominent people who experienced significant failures and then moved on from those failures in dramatic, positive ways. 

In our classrooms, there will be times when students experience learning setbacks. What you say in those moments can provide students with opportunities for future successes. In the book Growing Positive Mindsets: Principles and Practices for Maximizing Students’ Potential by authors Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers share the following strategies for giving feedback to students who have experienced a learning setback (pp. 96-97):

  1. Be specific regarding the knowledge or skill that needs improvement. Specificity provides greater opportunities for growth. 
  2. Personalize feedback to the needs of the individual. Talk to students directly about their work. Point out where things went awry and discuss ways to improve. 
  3. Be timely in providing feedback. There is a correlation between timeliness and the impact of the feedback. The closer to the event feedback is given, the more likely that students will learn from the feedback. 
  4. Provide strategy options and choice. Make sure that students know they are ultimately responsible for choosing strategies that can be used to improve upon. They must take the feedback to heart and do the work. 
  5. Include at least one positive. Many students perceive feedback to be negative. Break that cycle by noting and discussing at least one positive in the work that is being assessed. Of course, it is even better if you can find more than one positive thing to say. 
  6. Be encouraging. Students need you to be in their corner. The more encouraging you can be about how they can improve, the more likely they are to make the effort to employ your feedback. 
  7. Provide feedback in a variety of ways. Many students think that feedback is merely the red pen on the paper. Be creative and think of other ways you can share meaningful information with the students. Verbal responses, notes, emails, and videos can all be used to provide students with what they need to improve. 
  8. Employ the power of “I” statements. When you observe students using the feedback that you have provided and see that they are making improvements, let them know. “I see that you have been using this strategy, and I see that your grade has improved.” That’s a powerful!

As you prepare for next week, think about how you might use these eight strategies to help students turn their difficulties into successes. You and your students will be glad you did!

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