Crash-and-Burn; Watch me Fail

24 11 2013

When I was 16 years old, I remember writing my 365 (Learner’s Permit) test.  We sat in single rows and completed a 50 question multiple choice test.  I waited anxiously as the examiner scored my test – manually.  As I hovered over her shoulder, I was elated to discover that I had indeed passed.  In fact, I had gotten every single question correct… every question except one.  To this day, I can’t tell you any of the other questions on the test, but I will always remember my mistake and the answer that I had failed to select.  (In case you’re curious, it was: What should you use to help you see when driving in dense fog- the answer of course being headlights on low.  I had selected Headlights on High – and learned that day that high-beams would only reflect off of the fog and would in essence inhibit your vision further).

Have you ever had a moment in your classroom when things are going so brilliantly, that you look into the hall hoping that someone else might just happen to pop in to observe this moment?  In my school, we have made it a habit of wondering through each other’s classes and feel completely comfortable saying to each other “Do you have a moment, you have to see what the kids are doing right now.”  In fact, we call it “worming” – the act of wondering through a colleagues’ classroom and checking out student learning.

Inquiry has pushed me to try new things.  Some times, I have been a part of amazing risk-taking as I’ve seen my students dig into rich learning. And, as a teacher-author-blogger, I tend to share these ‘successes’ willingly with others.  However, this is not one of those times.  This weekend, I have been reflecting on a crash-and-burn moment in my classroom.

Typically, I would not think twice about a lesson or activity that crashes-and-burns.  I would just shake it off and think “well, that didn’t go exactly like I thought.”, and I would re-think it for the following day.  I don’t think I have reflected on a failed lesson this much in a long time.  I don’t think I’ve ever shared publicly about a challenge or crash-and-burn failure, but the more I think about this, the more I think its important that I’m honest about my successes, as well as my challenges.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, my students were well into their research about a famous Canadian and the impact they have had on a Global Issue.  Things were going so well, and my students were engaging in such rich research, dialogue and learning, that I was excited to share.  I had one of those ‘who’s in the hall that I can share this with’ moments!’.  That’s when I invited a colleague, researcher, fellow author, friend, someone who I admire and respect, to visit our class and see the learning-in-action; the grunt work in the inquiry-trenches.  Unfortunately, that’s when things went South… really fast.

Students had finished collaborating to become an ‘expert’ about a different Canadian, and we were completing a jig-saw activity (where each group would have an ‘expert’ to report back).  On paper, it was a brilliant plan:  Students would each share about their individual Canadians, and together as a group, they would identify similarities and trends; Through this discussion they would identify global issues that we could then use as a basis for further research.  Now, watch me fail:

  • There had been a long gap from the time, students had done the research, and now were to share it (life sometimes gets in the way  – in the form of field-trips and such).  I thought they needed a few minutes to review their research before sharing and invited them to do so. That is when I should have told them to select the three most important facts to share with their group… but I didn’t.
  • I had encouraged students to record their findings by taking notes, while this seemed a good idea at the time, when it came to sharing their research, they resorted to reading their notes to their group as others’ attempted to indiscriminately record the content.  Summarizing and note-taking mini-lessons would have been helpful!
  • I thought that a graphic organizer would help students record key information from others as they listened to the group ‘experts’ share back. This resulted in students attempting to copy down others’ research that they found it difficult to listen and think about what they were hearing. Identifying key ideas to listen for prior to sharing would have helped.
  • I wanted to ensure that everyone’s’ research was validated and they had sufficient time to share, this resulted in a sharing time that was way too long and students lost their focus. Again, sharing only key ideas would have alleviated this challenge.
  • I thought it would be possible for each table group to engage in their sharing simultaneously.  However,  the volume in the classroom exploded to inaudible levels making it impossible for students to hear each other’s ideas.

*phew*, That’s when I started to sweat.  Typically, I would think on my feet, intervene, re-invent, respond… but for some reason, I was paralysed; watching this activity fail and feeling powerless to turn it around.  As I watched my lesson crash-and-burn, I became more and more anxious.  In that moment, I felt as if I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about teaching and learning.

In the end, we somewhat recovered.  As a whole group, we were able to identify the issues that each Canadian was passionate about, and create a rather extensive list of global issues that we – as a class – would like to learn more about.  But it was by far, not my proudest moment.

Why such a pessimistic blog? I recognize that at times I will crash-and-burn in the classroom in order to find my way.  I’m okay with getting it wrong.  It’s through our mistakes that we will discover what truly works.  I feel like I’m teaching in the fog these days.  Things are not as clear for me as they usually are, and at times, my vision seems obscured.  Making mistakes is a part of the learning.  When I was 16, I learned through a mistake…. and I will always remember to use my low-beams in the fog… and as I work my way through inquiry teaching (and learning), I am prepared to learn many new things – sometimes through my successes…. but most likely through my mistakes.

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5 responses

24 11 2013
lisamnoble

Lisa,
Don’t you love it when that happens? You invite a colleague in, you’re excited to share, and wham! it all goes pear-shaped. Hopefully, your colleague was the sort that you could bounce things around with.

I love the fact that you’ve already identified what might have made things work better….so that the next time you try it, you’ll already have some concrete steps.

The more we share the stories of our “failures” (not fond of that word, but that’s because it’s got so many negative connotations, which I’m working on trying to get rid of), the more we open ourselves up for new ideas, great feedback, and the change to move forward. How can we really grow, if we only share our successes.

My classes are going to mystery skype on Tuesday for the first time…we’ve practiced, and we have roles, and the consultant’s coming….and I know I’ll cringe when the kids (almost inevitably) speak in English instead of french….and I think I’m going to have to do major league reflection. I’m also going to have to not rescue them, and that’s going to be the hardest part. But…trying and having it work out less than perfectly has to be a way of modeling that it’s okay for that to happen, doesn’t it?

And by the way, I failed my on-road test 3 times, before I finally got it. That was challenging for me, ’cause I’m a bit of a perfectionist. It was good practice for life. 🙂

24 11 2013
Lisa Donohue

Thanks Lisa,

Learning from our ‘failures’ is never as easy to share…. although it’s such an important part of learning. Good luck with your Skype… let me know how it goes.

24 11 2013
Cohen, Michael

I am SURE it was not as bad as you feel it was!

Sent from my iPhone

24 11 2013
Lisa Donohue

Thanks Michael,
Whole lot of learning going on…that’s okay – it’s all part of the process. 😉

29 11 2013
carla matos

Thanks Lisa for sharing. I now have a new term for those disastrous lessons : crash and burn lol. Yes its a hot feeling, like everything is going up in flames, you can’t put it out in time and all you can do is reflect on how to make it better next time. As I have perfectionist tendencies and have been told that I am too hard on myself it is helpful for me to know that others have crash and burn lessons too. Your insights are also helpful because I was planning on doing something similar with my class as do they research for biographies. Thanks again for your candid sharing.

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