Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What we learn from failure

I've always said I love to learn. But I've recently discovered that this is not always true.

I love to learn things I'm good at. If I'm not very good at learning them or doing them, I'm a much less enthusiastic learner. I've always loved to read and do academic work, partly because I was always good at it. But art? Music? Physical education? Forget it. I've had enough of being picked last for teams, thank you very much.

In short, I don't like to fail.

Case in point: yesterday was my racquetball game. About a year and a half ago, one of my favorite colleagues (who's roughly my dad's age) volunteered to teach me to play racquetball. I thought it would be a good thing for me to learn as a) I didn't know about it and b) I'm not very good at physical endeavors. This will have the effect of pushing me beyond my comfort level. See, I've always been quite uncoordinated. I'm not sure if it's my poor eyesight or some kind of miscommunication between my body and brain. Whatever it is, it's quite frustrating.

Anyway, after a year and a half of diligent practice you'd think I'd be better. And I am: a little. very little. In this time, I have beat him in exactly ONE match. We very seldom go to the third game in a match because he beats me for the first two games. Granted, usually we can get some good volleys going. Since we do it for the exercise and not for the competition, this is OK.

Except for yesterday. I have no idea what was or was not going on yesterday, but I could not hit a daggone thing. not even the broad side of a barn. and said barn was not in the racquetball court.

it was pretty obvious that I was getting frustrated. At one point my colleague jokingly said "You're cute when you're mad."

"You'd look 'cute' with a racquet sticking out of your ear, too," was my retort.

I'd love to tell you that I recovered and beat him, but the score was 2-15. And the two were on dumb luck.

Why? Well, because I was getting frustrated. Nothing was working right, and so I kept trying. But still, nothing worked. Then the negativism crept in. "I'm not going to do anything anyway, so I may as well just try to get this over as fast as I can," I thought.

Has anyone ever seen tests in which your students do that? They're doing OK, not great, but then they just disintegrate. You can almost see it on the test itself. What levels of frustration must they be experiencing? after yesterday's game, I think I can understand a little bit.

But the stakes for me are much lower. No grades or scholarships are resting on my racquetball game. No one has ever told me that if I don't get off my tail and start learning racquetball, I'd end up a bum on the street. For our students for whom learning doesn't come easily, this is a familiar occurrence.

So what do we do about it? I think that's a post for tomorrow. But for now, I'll keep the focus on my frustration and what it taught me about learning.

2 comments:

todd said...

I'm really into motivation and perseverance/persistance. I summarize the research of Dweck here. Dweck's book Mindset, geared to a more general audience, likely draws on examples from non-academic fields.

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i m not a "failure" everyone keep it up work done your.

Regards
Hazel