Please Don’t Mark It Wrong – How Our Society Raise Children Afraid to Fail

Another child stands by me asking for my help, 5 seconds after the assignment has been given, “But I just don’t get it, Mrs. Ripp…”  And I ask, because this is the 3rd time today that this child has come up to me immediately into work time, “Well, did you try?”  She hasn’t, she is scared, and she admits it readily;  “Please don’t circle it.  Please don’t mark it wrong.”  So upset, she raises her voice, pleads with me as if my circle matters.  As if my marker holds the power.  And I am stumped because how does a 5th grader get that scared of failing?

The truth is we are doing this to kids, we, this society in pursuit of perfection is doing it to our kids, because it was done to us as well.  My daughter, who granted is only a wise two and a half year old is not afraid to fail.  She gets frustrated sure, but she tries and tries and then sometimes tries again.  We encourage this at home, urging her on, urging her to explore, to pick herself up.  Again, again, again.  Will she be the child in 8 years that stands petrified in front of me, asking for help because trying seems too daunting?

No teacher or parent tries to make their child afraid of failure.  Yet our practices in schools support this notion that failure is the worst thing that can happen.  An incorrect answer on a test pulls down your grade, you get enough, and you get an F for failure stamped across it for the world to see.  That F means nothing valid, nothing worth reading here, nothing worth.  Homework that is meant to be practice is tabulated, calculated, and spit out on our report cards.  The child who gets the answer right is heralded as smart, the child who gets it wrong is told to keep trying and maybe they will get it someday.

How we run our classrooms directly affect how students feel about themselves.  About how they feel about their own capabilities and their own intelligence.  I fail all the time in front my kids, not on purpose, I try stuff and it doesn’t work and we talk about it.  And yet,  I am not perfect either.  I catch myself in using practice problems as assessment, where really they should be viewed just as practice.  I praise the kids that get it right and sometimes don’t praise the ones that kept persisting but never reach a correct answer.  I don’t alway have enough time to explore all of the options so I guide the kids toward success knowing that some venues will lead them to failure.  I shield them from it sometimes because I don’t want to crush their spirits.

We have to stand up for our children and we have to turn this notion around that failure is the worst thing that can happen.  Failure is not the worst; not trying is.  We have to keep our kids believing in themselves and having enough confidence to try something.  If we don’t we are raising kids that follow all of the rules, that never take risks, that never discover something new.   And that failure is too big to remedy.

6 thoughts on “Please Don’t Mark It Wrong – How Our Society Raise Children Afraid to Fail

  1. My suggestions are feedback and conversation. This is done in many schools successfully and students still can get into college without grades. Either way, we have to change the way we frame expectations for children. Children should not be afraid to try.

  2. I sooooo agree. We tell our kids that it is ok to fail and that you learn more from your mistakes, but we don't have a system that supports making a mistake. I see that in my work place also… where people are afraid to make a decision because they might be 'wrong'.

  3. I've read of schools that give grades: A, B, and "try again". I like the idea that a student can take and retake an assessment until s/he masters the material. It allows for failure, but encourages persistence too. Sir Ken Robinson has some great views he shares on ted.com.

  4. Mrs. Ripp,My name is Erica Savage. I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I have been assigned to read and comment on posts from your blog. Failure is inevitable. Everybody fails at something at some point. Kids that are afraid to fail, will grow up to be adults that are afraid to try. I am a product of the very treatment you speak of. As a college student I still sometimes find myself afraid to turn in assignments or even comment on a blog post because I feel like I might give the wrong response and potentially hurt my grade. I think explaining that failure is a part of life and giving students ample time and opportunity to develop their skills before they are tested will help decrease the fear of failing. If you would like to read a summary of my comments about your blog, please visit my blog: savageericaedm310.blogspot.com.

  5. Pingback: What Innovation Looks Like in an Elementary School – A.J. Juliani

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