Tuesday, January 19, 2016

To Fail is To Succeed

The fall of 2015 marked the start of a new course at Red River High School proposed and taught by Mr. Eric Sanders called “Innovations and Communications.”  In a blog post by Mr. Sanders, he explains the course and basic structure:

Students choose a problem that needs to be solved. They decide if they are going to work alone or in a group of up to three students. They propose a plan, their timeline, the point value of the project, and at least three CCSS English standards that they will master through this project.
Brainstorming sessions every Monday, working on projects Tuesday through Thursday (Students research their topic, carry out their plans, and build their proposals and presentations, and basically get the job done), and blogging on Friday (reflecting on how their project is going, their struggles and successes, etc.)  When the project is finished, the students present their project to their chosen stakeholders.(https://sandersspeaks.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/innovation-class/)
Over the course of the past semester, I followed the progress of the class through Mr. Sanders's Twitter posts, highlighting student blogs and insights into the class.  I also received a phone call and emails from a student in the class inquiring about promoting her group's project through district communication methods. All students learned the real-world skills of reaching out and connecting with adults.

At the end of the semester, I was invited to listen to the the student TEDx talks, the culminating event. Mr.Sanders opened the class with reflections on his role as a facilitator and quest to develop each students' creative confidence.  Each student took their turn to articulate their project, learning experiences, and accomplishments in the class.  Projects included rape culture, transgender, Kindness is Key, hearing impairment, etc.  After listening to all the students, three direct quotes resonated with me:
"To fail is to succeed."

"All teachers should encourage divergent thinking and innovations in all classes."
"Failure and risk is part of the process of learning and innovating."

Failure as part of the learning process was a consistent theme.  It became apparent that as students recognized and became more comfortable with failure, their confidence and learning grew exponentially.  The following infographic by Sylvia Duckworth highlights many points made by the students:

It was obvious that Mr. Sanders created a culture of encouraging students to think big, which provided real-world opportunities to embrace, then overcome failure. Through the concluding TEDx talks, Mr. Sanders received some unsolicited, but resounding endorsements for the course.  In fact, one student even wished that Innovations & Communications class was a year long class instead of just a semester.

When students are empowered to guide their own learning, choose a project they are passionate about, and recognize that failure is part of the learning process, true deeper learning happens. In fact, the learning has already extended beyond the classroom walls as some of Mr. Sanders's students recently presented at the @TEDxGrandForks Open Mic night and some have been asked to speak at other events.

I can only wonder how student learning could become more innovative if...

  • all courses concluded like Innovations and Communications.
  • teachers provided each student an opportunity to honestly reflect on their learning and experiences at the conclusion of the course.
  • authentic and meaningful were words students used to describe their classes.
  • students were empowered to explore topics of their choice.
  • more teachers encouraged and modeled risk taking for our students.
“If we are really wanting to serve our students and help them to develop to become the leaders and learners of today and the future, taking risks in our practice is not only encouraged, but necessary.” George Couros
Thank you Mr. Sanders for taking a risk in starting the Innovations and Communications course and providing your students many opportunities to learn and grow through their failures. While these students readily admitted to their failures, they are now equipped with many more skills to succeed in THEIR future.

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