Conference: April 24, 2015
Fail Better: Writing, Thinking, and Risk-Taking in the American Classroom
“What kinds of reward can failure offer us,” J. Jack Halberstam asks in The Queer Art of Failure. This question inverts the way failure is normally perceived and talked about in education—instead of thinking of failure as potentially rewarding, classrooms are often filled with the stress of possible failure (whether it be failing a test or volunteering the wrong answer). In her article, “In Support of Failure,” Allison Carr asks readers to consider a “pedagogy of failure,” in an attempt to shift from “avoiding failure [as] the object around which school is structured.” Sadly, with the the advent of the Common Core State Standards, and the continued pressure on teachers and administrators to guarantee that their students “score well,” the fear of failure is increasingly present for both faculty and students. For example, when New York City schools conducted their first assessment based on the Common Core State Standards, scores were low, and the rhetoric surrounding the assessments was one of “we’ve failed our students” or “our students failed to demonstrate competency in”—a rhetoric present at all levels of education.
This conference will focus on a different definition of failure, one that examines the positive connotations of the word. Success merely tells us something is working—it doesn’t necessarily move us forward, nor teach us how to sustain challenging intellectual work. We learn from our mistakes, from trial and error, therefore failure can be seen as productive, a chance to figure out why something doesn’t work and then make it work. Failure is an opportunity to bring in ‘wonder,’ productive speculative thinking, and it opens up avenues to what we don’t yet know. This conference will return to Ann Berthoff’s important notion that “we need to teach ourselves and our students…to recognize the value of not knowing what your thesis statement is and thus discovering the uses of chaos.” In other words, how can our work with students emphasize not the right or wrong answer but the learning process?
The Institute’s writing-based teaching practices can help administrators and teachers experience the kinds of teaching that highlight the process of learning. IWT practices help students understand how to pursue an idea and work through whatever roadblocks he or she might encounter—to take intellectual risks—
in the process of reaching a “right” answer.
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Fee: $250 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and anthology of texts)