Reflections on Levels of Instruction and Structured Failure

Today was a really fun day, I was able to try out my first round of woodworking in the maker space during Wellness Wednesday. The goal was to have students build a small box out of popsicle sticks and balsa wood. Within that task, they would learn to use proper measuring techniques, how to use Exacto knives properly as well as how to use wood glue and even small clamps if necessary.

While designing this activity I was constantly mulling over the level of detail and instruction I should give. Generally, when doing most hands-on STEM things, I try to present as bare a scaffold as possible so that students can take a general idea and run with it as far or as deeply as they would like.

When I thought about this more deeply I realized that the more instruction I provide, the less room there is for students to be creative and there would be more opportunity for students to focus on making mistakes instead of the final product. I don't want students focusing on my approval at each step, I want them focusing on the task at hand and actively trying something.

My How Might We question this year is "How might we design meaningful situations where students can safely learn to fail?" In a culture that so intensely presents a need for success and excellence, how can students learn to fail or move forward after making mistakes? Failure is a learned skill and vital not just for academic success, but also for mental health and life in general.

In a maker space, mistakes and failure are a vital part of the building and design process. Many of my students coming into my room have never really built anything with their hands. All of this is new for them and I am so excited to see them try things, break them and build them back again.

What I'm left with now however is the same thoughts I had as I planned out this activity. How much instruction is the right amount to promote a healthy level of mistakes? @sreimer asked me some great questions about how to avoid the "is this correct?" question from her students and I am wondering that as well. I think my direction now will be turning towards the amount and detail in my instructions and how that can possibly lead towards a bit more creativity and room for safe mistakes in the classroom, maybe even failing at tasks without panic. However my mind still feels like the graphic @lmcbeth posted and I wouldn't be surprised if these thoughts led me in a whole other direction. I'm also interested in hearing about what other Cohort 21 members think. How do you balance the level of detail in your instruction? Does any of this ever cross your mind?

One thought on “Reflections on Levels of Instruction and Structured Failure

  1. Hey @rgarand, this is all really great thinking and I often wrestle with this exact thing as well. I want my students to be comfortable with ambiguity as @lmcbeth puts it, but I also want them to feel a sense of wayfinding as well. I listened to a neat podcast from Jen Gonzalez on Contrasting Cases for deep learning and ultimately it came down to modelling.

    So with that in mind, I wonder how we encourage being comfortable with ambiguity when we come into a lesson really well planned, with a clear path and learning objectives or where they might see people embracing ambiguity in real life.

    I'm excited to hear about where your action research has taken you in the last stretch of the year!


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