July 23, 2024
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What can failure teach us? Professor researches the concept

Amber Simpson from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership explores failure as part of a research grant

Amber Simpson, assistant professor of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) at Binghamton University. Amber Simpson, assistant professor of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) at Binghamton University.
Amber Simpson, assistant professor of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership (TLEL) at Binghamton University. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

In school, success is measured by a grade and failing is a major setback.

But how should we define failure? Could it be a more effective teacher than success?

These are questions Amber Simpson, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership, hopes to address as part of a three-year research grant that she was awarded through the National Science Foundation.

She’s taking a professional development model grounded in mathematical education and currently executing and refining it in informal educational settings — in this case, exhibits, workshops and camps for children offered by museums across the United States.

Her focus isn’t on completely removing the stigma of failure, but perhaps spurring more engaging conversation about the concept.

“The goal is more long-term professional development, changing the culture to really support educators and how they respond to kids’ failures,” Simpson says. “And what we’re learning is we thought they’d talk about kids’ failures, but instead they talk more about their own failures as educators. Like, ‘Oh, I didn’t ask that question very well’ or ‘I did this wrong.’”

Simpson’s research includes input from approximately 25 informal educators. It uses data and other information gleaned from video of recorded virtual group meetings, video from individual partnering sites and media publications.

During the project, Simpson and colleagues discussed more about how the attribution of one’s failure can shift from a detrimental experience to one of growth.

Under a method of experimentation and exploration, just because one attempt doesn’t work out as planned, that doesn’t mean the endeavor isn’t worth trying again.

“Part of the grant is shifting the idea from being ‘The kids think they failed’ to ‘The thing they put together is what failed,’” Simpson says. “I don’t see most people celebrating when they fail. But when people take stock, they can realize they’re learning from it.”

As educators, Simpson says it’s important to recognize that every student is different. Their skills and performance can be affected not only by their own aptitude, but also something as simple as one student waking up and having a better day than another.

Simpson’s research indicates grades may be unhelpful in informal or formal learning spaces, but that doesn’t mean the idea that “everyone gets a trophy” would be more effective, because an opportunity for student growth is missed.

Instead, Simpson believes students can learn better if their teachers talk them through how something didn’t work out and why.

“Your words as an educator carry a lot of weight and being mindful of that is important,” she says, “especially with how kids see failure.”

Posted in: Campus News, CCPA