Friday, May 09, 2008

Failure, according to fifth graders

My students spent nearly twenty minutes this morning debating the meaning of failure. They were discussing a quote from Michael Eisner, "Failure is good as long as it doesn't become a habit." (For homework each week they write their thoughts about a couple of quotes I give them and we discuss them on Friday mornings.)

As soon as I read the quote to them about half the class jumped in. I had to stop and remind them about how we have discussions. After a few reminders, they were rolling. All but a couple of students spoke up during the discussion and more than half the class was very active in it.

They started off debating whether or not they agreed with the quote. Pretty quickly a couple of students realized that the reason they disagreed was because they viewed failure differently. From there it became a discussion of the meaning of failure. Some feel that failure is an end and there is nowhere to go. Others feel that failure can be a bump in the road from which one can recover. They debated the differences between mistakes and failure. One student went to get a dictionary to compare definitions of the two words. That led to a brief side debate about the usefulness and/or accuracy of dictionaries.

After about twenty minutes three or four kids were beginning to look dazed and checked out. So, I stopped them, to great protests, to move on and discuss our next quote. I did promise that if anyone wanted to continue the discussion later I would make sure they had an opportunity. I also tried to make them understand that it was wonderful that they didn't all agree. We couldn't have had such an interesting discussion if they all felt the same way.

I was so impressed with how well they listened to one another, built on or argued against each others' ideas, and really thought seriously about the topic. I will admit that by the end I was beginning to feel a bit dazed, but mostly I was wishing I had recorded the discussion.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you all had a wonderful philosophical discussion, Jenny. Not bad for a rainy Friday. : )

S said...

interesting. and i'm willing to bet that their takes on failure come straight from their parents.

achievement/success/failure, it's one of those things i see as being consolidated via observational learning.

Mrs. Johnson said...

I love how you discuss quotes! What a great idea. I want to find a way to do this in my classroom. Does it always create such discussions as the one you discussed in your blog?

Jenny said...

Ms. Mize - our discussions are not always this animated and energetic, but they are typically quite interesting. I look forward to hearing their thoughts each week. It took some time for them to get good at really talking with one another rather than just each sharing their own thoughts.