#eltchat summary : dealing with failure

This is a summary of the #eltchat that took place at  12pm GMT on November 30 2011.

How to Deal with Students who are about to Fail

Chatters from a range of backgrounds and contexts, business English classes, private language schools, universities, mainstream secondary and primary school, offered a variety of different perspectives on the topic and on evaluation and failure in general.

The chat opened with an attempt to define the parameters of the topic.  Firstly we looked at the importance of pinpointing why students are failing: is it because they aren’t working or because they aren’t ready or struggling to meet the level?  We also tried to pinpoint what we mean by failure, is it a failure to get the right grades or meet a satisfactory level for established criteria? Some chatters suggested it could be widened to cover students who were struggling to follow the pace of the classes or possibly not coming up to their own expectations(@theteacherjames). Each different context had a slightly different take on failure, but it was certainly perceived as a universal problem.

The whole idea of failure disturbs me (@tamaslorincz)

Fail is a horrible word but it is real life (@Marisa_C)

Different responses may be required for different contexts.  If students are studying towards an exam and the date of the exam is not fixed (e.g. one of the Cambridge exams) then chatters agreed that the onus was on the teacher to identify students who they felt might not pass, and counsel them about the exam, recommending that they wait until they are ready.  Some chatters talked about situations where the students were given a “pre-test” to establish their level which were then followed up by tutorials.  Others talked about systems which allowed students to do remedial work in order to gain a pass (@billpelowe).  A system by which peers help struggling classmates met with a lot of interest.

When students were having difficulty grasping ideas I used peer tutors to get them up to speed (@cybraryman1)

And one chatter uses student response cards to track progress.

@billpellowe: Keeping my students involved via low-tech student response cards has helped me identify students in danger

Progress tutorials were generally accepted as a good means of helping weaker students avoid – or prepare for – failure.  The importance of letting students know how well/badly they’re doing was also stressed, as well as making it clear to students what the consequences might be of not putting in enough work.   Continual assessment and portfolios were suggested as “early warning systems” for failure, allowing teachers to intervene in time to help the students draw up  personalised study plans and suggest remedial work, maybe, for example, on a wiki. It was agreed that it was important to make students aware of their (potential) failure.

It is our job to help them diagnose the problems and give advice and extra help. (@rliberni)

It was suggested that many students who are failing need help with study skills, organizing and studying and that this is an area where teachers can be proactive. One chatter described how she suggests personalised plans based on the students’ strengths & weaknesses for extra work outside class (@ljp2010)  It was also agreed that clear guidelines for exams should be set out well before the exam so that students know exactly what is expected of them.

Set ground rules and reminders at the beginning of the course works 95% of the time. Some ss wait until the last moment to work 😦 (@alhen)

Nobody should ever be ‘in the dark’ about their progress and readiness for an assessment if they are then we’re the failures! (@rliberni)

But of course, the end result depends on the student:

some do the work & get the benefit … you can lead a horse to water… (@ljp2010)

Attention was also paid to the psychological effect of failure on students. It was suggested that failure can become a label, a very unfortunate label, that demotivates and sets off a negative spiral, just as success breeds success, so failure breeds failure.  There was some discussion of how this can be combatted by making progress visible, by celebrating small successes, by encouraging students to think beyond the exams and beyond the system to more global aims.  With younger learners it was suggested that parents should also be brought into the equation (@ljp2010 @mattkendrickelt ) and that at times failure is inherent in the system (@tamaslorincz).

hate to see students sinking in the spiral – failure, no motivation, more failure. It can be you who can help, but not always  (@Tamkirja)

The chat moved on to discuss what we can do to avoid failure in the future. Asking questions about why students fail and making changes to course content, assessment design and tracking systems were all suggested as possible solutions.

Why are they failing? -Motivation? -Inability to keep up? -Bad course design? -Bad assessment design? Knowing this will help you (@yearinthelifeof)

A lot of time is often spent on success in the classroom – is equal time spent on why some Ss fail , e.g to get the right answer? (@Marisa_C)

Failing Ss should always make us reflect and go back to evaluation of course, materials, methods (@Marisa_C)

It was good to finish on this positive note, looking ahead to more success and less failure!  It reflects very positively on the optimism, enthusiasm and commitment of  #eltchat and all #eltchatters!

The following links were shared:

@riberni : I wrote a piece yesterday on what to do after you fail to get the result you want  http://t.co/ZxV669Wy #eltchat
@cybraryman1 :  many students who are failing need help with organizing & studying.  My Study Skills page: http://t.co/C0uS773G
@cybraryman1 : My Tutoring & Mentoring page: http://t.co/qLdgHjzw

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2 Responses to #eltchat summary : dealing with failure

  1. I’ve been missing so many chats lately and this one is such an important topic. Thanks for the great summary!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Thanks for calling by, Naomi!
      It really is a very important topic – I know we like to celebrate success, but I think we need to stand back and understand “failure” with all its connoatations and all that we can learn from that.

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