“On this piece of paper, I would like you to all draw in silence a series of symbols that fully embody the themes and issues presented through the text.”
They begin drawing. One girl jumps right in and draws a love heart - (The title of the play has ‘love’ in it). One girl writes some numbers - (The title of the play has the word ‘information’ in it.) Slowly another draws a puzzle with pieces missing; one draws a persons head with the tongue rolled out like a sheet of paper and numbers, symbols dripping out of the mouth; one draws a human being using binary code. More images flow and then they stop. We discuss.
“What images attract your attention? Engage you? Evoke emotion or cause you to question?”
Immediately students speak of the paper-tongued lady, the missing puzzle pieces and the human made up solely of information. When they were done, I asked,
“And who drew the heart?”
The kid that drew the heart (a bright and intelligent young lady I might add) begins to apologise, make excuses, explaining she can’t draw. She realises the superficiality of her work from our discussion. I interrupt her apology with the following,
“Thank you for failing.”
“MISSSSS!!!”, she declares.
“Thank you for drawing what everyone else was first thinking. If you didn’t draw it someone else would have and now we can have a rich discussion because you pushed them to think further. We can also discuss why the play isn’t just this (pointed to heart) or this (pointed to the symbols). Thank you for failing, because if you didn’t then I have no purpose in this room.”
She looked at me confused as my thanks was both heart-felt and genuine. It was not sarcastic or trite. It was warm and comforting. We then began to dissect why it wasn’t just about love or just about information and by the end of the lesson all the students in my class could see the rich layers within the text.
This is one example of my new strategy - ‘Thank you for failing.’ I have been using it a lot over the last few weeks. At first there is the initial declaration of my name in horror, “MISSSSSS!!!” but when my students realise I am truly grateful for their error they begin to own their mistakes. This is the culture I want in my classroom.
My year 11’s already know my mantra - “If we aren’t failing, we aren’t learning.” They will heartedly joke that it is ok to ‘Fail in Drama’. They twist my words, but they do truly understand my intention. By creating a space where failing is valued, students become more open to taking risks, more likely to have a go answering a question and lastly become more resilient.
We need to change the language around failure to reverse the negative. When a student gives an incorrect answer to a question or makes an error in a practical task, harness it as a valuable learning experience rather than sighing and moving onto the next student.
“Why did you think this was the answer?”
“This isn’t the answer so what do you think you may have missed?”
“Why didn’t this work out for you today?”
“What could we do better next time?”
And thank them. Thank them explicitly and whole-heartedly for their mistakes because if they were perfect all the time, there would be no need for teachers.