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In the world of education, “failure” is often seen as a word with negative implications. Rather than viewing it in negative terms, we should be willing to embrace it as a positive learning tool. Instances of student failure are not points where we should condemn students for being unknowledgeable, but should be embraced as teachable moments, where students can learn from their mistakes to better themselves and their learning. Through recognizing failure in learning environments, students can obtain superior problem-solving skills, better integrate old and new knowledge, and learn the value or persistence. < Click Essay Writer to order your essay >

Failure can be useful if there is room for it to happen and for students to recover from it. Safe failure in controlled environments is different from the motivational killer when students flunk tests, courses, or entire semesters. These large scale failing can be humiliating and can destroy a student’s motivation to continue working, or remain persistent. To combat failure in the classroom, some Universities have begun “Fresh Start” programs, where failing students obtain extra help in terms of study skills, individual support, motivation, and monitoring throughout the school year to get them on the right track. For example, at the University of Alberta, failing students can enroll in a Fresh Start Program after receiving an RTW notice, or requirement to withdraw (Program Description, 2016). Through the Fresh Start program, these students take a reduced course load, and attend supplementary seminars to help them strengthen their study skills and to prepare them for academic success in the future. Through these types of programs, Universities encourage students to remain persistent after failure, which leads to many more successful University graduates in the future. Another example of Universities combatting failure in education is the development of a multimedia support environment, SAMI Perseverance, by a team of researchers from three different universities. This tool works to stimulate conditions favouring success and persistence in university studies, and the electronic environment allows for educators to judge the learning characteristics of their students at university entry (Sauve, Godelieve, Wright, & Fournier, 2006). Through this tool, educators are able to provide hundreds of interactive learning sessions to support post-secondary students through this first year. In doing this, educators are assisting students in developing key skills to help them succeed and stick to their academic goals in the future. Through recognizing and accepting failure in learning environments, educational institutions are teaching students how to cope with and manage failure, rather than protecting them from it. This helps students build character, study skills, and problem solving skills to help them better succeed in the future. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

Success is not dependent primarily on cognitive skills, but on more crucial non-cognitive skills such as persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. In Paul Tough’s book, ‘How Children Learn’, he discusses these non-cognitive skills and how psychologists and neuroscientists have been working to identify where they come from and how they are developed. Through this research, Tough and his research associates have determined that these crucial non-cognitive characteristics are created by encountering and overcoming failure (Tough, 2012). This book argues that younger people, who lack persistence and drive, tend to choose what’s safe rather than risk failure by pursuing goals that they might find more fulfilling. To fix this, he suggests that undertaking cognitive therapies with children, such as analyzing their own mistakes and failures, may be beneficial in helping them learn from them and to develop better character traits for future success (Tough, 2012). To develop a child’s character, we need to move past simply developing self-esteem, into letting them fail, not to destroy their self-esteem or motivation, but to give them to the tools to succeed in the future. We can relate this to being successful in post-secondary settings, and remaining persistent despite setbacks in our lives. Similarly to the principles of the Fresh Start programs, the advice of Tough states that while IQ matters a lot in what a first year students GPA will be, graduating from post-secondary institutions has much more to do with the character traits of persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Students need to be able to deal with setbacks in their lives, because as adults in post-secondary institutions, they will always be dealing with setbacks, whether it be the inability to pay tuition, not getting along with roommates, or failing classes (Tough, 2012). By preparing them with the non-cognitive characteristics described above, we can help students to increase their chances of success, and to grant them these valuable character traits, we have to allow them to fail and help them continue despite it.

Part of a teacher’s role is to help students accept that failure and mistakes are vital parts of their learning, and showing them how to use them to adjust their performance. As stated by Dr. Sikura in his 2010 paper ‘Failure is Not Only an Option – It is, in Fact, a Necessity!’, delivered in a positive context, failure has been found to enhance the overall learning process, serving to build confidence and a sense of accomplishment with respect to the mistakes and failure overcome along the way (Sikora, 2010). As they would receive in the real world, students should receive honest feedback from teachers on the work they are completing. Without this honest feedback, they would be incapable of improving their future performance (Sikora, 2010). If teachers lie to students by neglecting to give them any negative feedback, they are teaching them to be dishonest both with themselves and with others. In addition to this, lying about student work risks helping them create inflated ideas of their own abilities, which can be equally damaging (Sikora, 2010). Professional educators should realize that success is both built upon previous successes, as well as predicated on failure (Sikora, 2010). The only individuals who can teach students that their ability to fail and accept failure is a building block to success are their teachers. Teachers must help students to use their mistakes to adjust their performance, accepting student mistakes that are made as learning opportunities, and acknowledging their own mistakes as a model for students to see. Through this, teachers can help students recognize the positive aspects of failure, and teach them how to adjust their own performance to succeed despite them.

Failure can prove its value only when it drives us on to something better. By recognizing failure as a productive process and an opportunity for learning, individuals can learn persistence, and can be taught to succeed, despite errors in their past. Post-secondary institutions are beginning to recognize these principles through ‘Fresh Start’ programs, and through this, are optimizing graduation rates from their institutions. In addition to this, teaching failure as a building block for success helps students obtain important character traits such as problem-solving, learning from mistakes, and perseverance. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]


Program Description. (2016). Retrieved from University of Alberta:

Sauve, L., Godelieve, D., Wright, A., & Fournier, J. (2006, October). SAMI-Perseverance : early experiences of using a multi-media environment in support of post-secondary student perseverance. Retrieved from The Learning and Technology Library

Sikora, S. (2010, June). ‘Failure’ is Not Only an Option – It is, in Fact, a Necessity!

Tough, P. (2012). How Children Succeed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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