Monday, 17 February 2014

Fear of Failure

Are we creating a generation of children who are scared of learning because it might lead to failure? Have teachers and consequently children become so fixated on Levels, attainment and progress that we have allowed our pupils to become scared of learning?

I have a two year old daughter, Jessica. I made a decision when she was born that I would let her try things herself (safely) rather than tell her she couldn’t do it, or was too young. When reading parenting books there is a constant reference to age-related expectations:

“ Your Child should be doing … by 6 months” or worse “You child won’t be … until a year old”
By following these expectations are we already restricting our childrens’ experiences according to their “capability”? I’m not advocating forcing young children into unsafe or unsuitable activities, rather that children should be allowed to safely experience anything.

Expectation is key. When Jessica first started to walk, I allowed her to try new things. She began to start climbing on things: books, chairs. Instead of stopping her from doing this, I simply tried to make sure she was safe whilst doing it. Most of the time she simply wasn’t capable of doing what she intended, a couple of times she became upset. However, when she WAS able to achieve what she wanted, it made her happy. At a friend’s house she climbed up some books and sat down at the top. She “shouldn’t” have been able to do that, according to The Books.

How often do we put a glass ceiling over children? How much impact do Levels have on our expectation of how well the children in our class achieve?

I work in a School in a relatively affluent area, with children who generally achieve highly and with parents who on the most part support their children. However, as children reach my class (Year 3), some of them have already set themselves up to fail. They approach work with an ‘I Can’t’ attitude, they are surprised by success and lack the skills to handle praise. This fear of failure will eventually lead to children stepping back from learning.

                                           “It’s better to not try, because that way you can’t fail.”

How many times can a child be told ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘You are too young’ or ‘You aren’t clever enough to…’ before they start to believe it? As teachers, how many times have we looked at a child and thought ‘This work is way above …’s level’ or looked at the New Curriculum and thought ‘This class will never understand Algorithms’.

As I wrote earlier, expectation is key. If the teacher and the pupil have high expectations, then progress is inevitable. However, there needs to be structures in place do deal with failure when it happens. We need a generation of children who try, fail, then try again. Children need to understand that failure is not an ending, but a beginning.

As a Christian, I live my life in the knowledge that I will fail constantly, that I will never quite be good enough, but that God loves me regardless of my failure. That knowledge of constancy is what allows me to take risks in my life, to try new things in the knowledge that failure will happen, but failure can be good.

Children need to know that, even though they might fail, their teacher is there to support them regardless of this.We need a generation of children willing to experiment, to test the boundaries of their knowledge but not to become scared when they reach the edge of their comfort zone.

As teachers, we need to provide learning experiences which challenge children to their fullest extent, whilst providing a safety net for when things go wrong. We also need to think about Potential, not attainment, progress or Levels. What is each child capable of, with the right support?

When my daughter was learning to walk, it was better to hold my hands out ready to catch her if she fell, rather than holding her hand all the time. That way, she could learn to walk without my support, but knew that I was there, just in case.

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