Do you ever set out planning to fail? Trying something and then deliberately failing at it? Do you try to drop plates, miss shots, or draw terribly while playing Pictionary? I’m not talking about letting a kid beat you at a game or intentionally messing up something just for laughs (more on that later). I’m talking about actually trying to fail.
Chances are you don’t choose to fail, at least not often. Hopefully.
Take the student’s perspective now. Sometimes students fail assignments, tests, or even classes. Do they mean to? Are they trying to fail? Doubtful. Given a choice, most students would opt to pass if they could.
It is easy to look at a lack of effort as the reason for students not succeeding in class. While technically true in many cases, it is not as simple as that. Students may not give their best all of the time, and probably not in classes they struggle in. But, they want to do well. Who wants to waste their time doing something they will fail at?
That is precisely the point.
A student, just like most adults, won’t pursue an endeavor if they don’t think they will succeed at it. The inevitable failure is surely not worth our time or effort. In students, this very human phenomenon may manifest itself as a lack of effort, and that’s where teachers come in.
As much as we are experts in our content areas, our job is not simply to convey what we know. It is to show students that they can also learn it. We need to get them to a place where they see that their effort will be rewarded. They need to know that they can get some value from what you are saying or they are reading. That intrinsic reward is what makes it worth it to them.
There are many strategies for inspiring these students to shake off their ideas of failure and learn to discover that they already have the toolset they need to be successful. Sometimes it’s as simple as not putting them in a bucket of low expectations. Other times, showing vulnerable students that you trust and respect them is what’s needed. What are the strategies you use to motivate your most reluctant learners? After all, these are the students that need the most support and motivation.
In the meantime, as the second half of the year comes to an end and those grades start to post, remember that those that are failing, are not choosing to.