Challenging classwork teaches perseverance, writes Justin Minkel, who teaches second and third grade at a high-performing, high-poverty school in Arkansas. Non-cognitive skills such as perseverance, collaboration and goal-setting raise academic achievement, research shows.
Children will work hard on complex problems, he writes. “If a problem is easy, it’s embarrassing to get it wrong. If a problem is so complex even the teacher hasn’t figured out the answer yet, failure becomes a step toward success.”
His third graders design, build, advertise and sell a product for an economics unit.
The teams (or “companies”) will spend hours perfecting their design for an animal-shaped sticker book or toy iPhone, rehearsing the script for their commercials, and even spying on other teams with similar products to find out how they’re pricing them.
The first time around, only two of the eight companies made a profit. The kids on those teams didn’t sit back with a smug grin the way some students do when they get an A on a paper. Instead, they figured out how they could improve on their success to make an even bigger profit the next time around.
Kids on the six teams that lost money didn’t hang their heads the way students do when they get a D or an F. They immediately began talking about where they went wrong and how they could make a profit next time.
This what “productive failure” is all about, writes Minkel.