Bird Droppings January 23, 2021
Why do we fail?
Many times, I have wondered why people stop learning. I see it in high school students, in college and graduate students. Almost as if a switch is thrown and poof no more learning, I have reached my limit seems t be the mantra. I was reading today and found this thought.
“Cognitive psychologists use the term metacognition to describe our ability to assess our own skills, knowledge, or learning. That ability affects how well and how long students’ study— which, of course, affects how much and how deeply they learn. Students with poor metacognition skills will often shorten their study time prematurely, thinking that they have mastered course material that they barely know.” James M. Lang, 1/17/12, Metacognition and Student Learning, The Chronicle of Higher Education
A few months back before the pandemic, BP, two fellows in an afternoon class both of whom have a grade of 60 currently in biology essentially told me to leave them alone. I jotted down a note for each that unless they get serious, they will fail simply based on mathematics. The class grade is eighty percent of their final grade and in Georgia we have an End of Course test, EOC in biology which is twenty percent of their grade. I pointed out at current pace they will both fail if they have a 100 on EOC. One asked me if I was trying to be smart and I assured him I am always smart. His next response was “‘bro’ gets out of my face ‘bro’ you making fun of me”. I assured him all I was doing was making a point either start getting his class grade up or take biology again next year.
I did mention that in nearly twenty years of teaching I had only seen a perfect score once and judging by his test scores he would not be number two. Thinking back that may have been sarcastic to some but he had not had a passing score on any standardized test to date.
I had a teacher approach me before school started the next day about a student who scored a seventeen on a quiz. The student’s parents were asking for a retake and a study guide which the teacher was complaining about doing. The student got a seventeen he deserved a seventeen period. Where is the learning curve giving a failing grade is not a motivator for many students who by high school are used to that and could care less? Am I achieving a passing grade by learning what is on the quiz and then retaking the quiz, and passing maybe, is what school should be about? Several friends that I have co-taught with allow retakes if you come in for tutoring over material before the retest.
“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner
I began the morning looking through several articles written by the late William Edelen, a former pastor and fighter pilot, as well as several by Arthur Schopenhauer, 19th-century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology. Somehow in my reading earlier I ended up back on articles by John Gardner. I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart, I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One of the former students shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard. The other student said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. Still another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart.
I thought back in each of their lives. All failed in part or all the former required graduation tests in Georgia high schools. One of the students had failed one a portion three times by a total of eight points; as a result, she did not graduate, and she opted to get a GED. She was tired of failing or risking failing again. In light of the great Hank Arron’s passing, I will borrow a quote that fits today.
“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I am going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But the failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron
For so many of us we take defeat or failure in stride and move on, but for some student’s failure is a daily event and eventually they succumb and lose whatever desire to succeed they may have had. A good friend now a football and baseball coach in high school while playing high school baseball as a catcher would study players as they batted. Each pitch thrown and each swing tucked away. Should by chance he be against that same batter he knew their every move and would offer to the pitcher through hand signals the pitch to throw. My friend had an uncanny memory for details. If we could apply to teaching each mistake by a student memorized and then pitch to the weakness not to fail again but to succeed for that student.
“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki
“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose
Amazing how this is so similar as I think back on life to my experiences in fourth grade. I had a teacher who was grading me harder than those around me. I think she thought I would not notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A. I had two wrong, and a C. My mother asked and the teacher stated I was not working up to my ability, so she was grading harder than other students. I quit trying in school for some time, until about two years into college.
“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you will be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver
We set in motion at young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. Watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn. Example is the best teacher, and they watch parents. If we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed
“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau
“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole
I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one exhibit, it is a barrel of light bulbs all failures and the plague reads it took over 10,000 failures to succeed but it did work. As I went further and read, Coles thought about drowning and was applying it to students. Many have given up because the school and society has given up. As soon as you take statistics in college you gather data and sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail, and soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to their graphs and charts.
“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)
Alfie Kohn’s starts his website with:
“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards.” The statement of “Learning by doing,” which is a common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name so let us call it “teaching by doing”
“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them
Alfie Kohn has been writing and lecturing nationwide about issues in public school for the past few years, he is a major proponent of public schools. It is how we teach he is trying to address and instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that aspect. It is about promoting the success rather than failure that we need to strive for in our endeavors as teachers and parents. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success and their futures. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)