The Near Win – a positive view of failure

  • On 2015-04-16
  • failure, learning, win

Recently I wrote an article about the importance of failure in developing what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. Being able to see failure as a step to success is one of those perceptions or dispositions we could / should develop in ourselves as well as our students. The more we can be with the meanings we attach to failure and not make it something personal about ourselves (like we are not good enough or talented enough, etc)  the more we can learn to see failure as an opportunity to learn.

But how do we do this? It is easy to say that is what should be done but what actions would lead this disposition to be developed?

One possible approach clicked for me over the recent school break as I watched (and listened) to my teen son play one of his Xbox games. On a number of occasions he was so close to beating the bad guys (I think it was actually bad dogs on this occasion) in his game that he was willing to go back to the start of that mission to retry and retry until he learnt what he needed to learn to overcome the situation. I have noticed this myself when I play those games – that failure was OK when I saw I was close to winning. Widening this thinking further – in my life I have always been driven to keep striving and growing and learning because I often had “near wins”. These days I play the game of life to win although I know that I won’t always win and there is something to learn each and every time.


Near wins – overcoming failure


Then I read this wonderful article from the recent ASCD conference of a talk by Sarah Lewis on the importance of near wins in reaching for mastery. I then found that Lewis has also presented a TED talk in 2014. Lewis found that the greatest artists and innovators in history thrived on near wins – “the gap between where they are and where they want to go”. Lewis encourages teachers to

Give students a “private domain”—a safe space to play and explore. ”Make no question foolish,” implored Lewis, and always integrate time for innovation, creativity, and play. “Play is what allows us to maintain a sense of wonder [and] sustain the journey required for mastery.”

So in this coming term have a go at creating an environment where the students can play and have near wins. Perhaps for those students who just missed out on getting the next grade in an assignment – have them re-submit and go for the higher grade. Perhaps you could gamify your classroom somewhat and have your students see learning as a game. Perhaps you give your students time to play around with ideas – concepts – understandings rather than rushing through content. Whatever you try reflect on the near wins in your teaching as you go and see what arises.

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