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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Revelation about Resolutions

Watching a short TED talk on “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, a former consultant turned middle school math teacher, brought about thoughts of personal goal setting and perseverance, thoughts of new years resolutions, thoughts of never-ending attempts at self-improvement, thoughts lacking follow through, and thoughts of failure. It didn’t take long for those thoughts to bring on an overwhelming feeling of defeat with reminders of past inadequacies and ineptitude. As a new year begins, many will set personal and professional goals while trying to figure out how to keep from losing sight of those intentions and eventually abandoning them altogether. In that TED talk, Ms. Duckworth said one thing that began to turn lingering self-defeat into clarity and motivation: “…the ability to learn is not fixed...it can change with your effort…We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.” She very eloquently explained that the key to success and growth is not viewing failure as a permanent condition but as an opportunity for growth and forward progress.

Humans are conditioned to view failure in a very negative light and taught to take steps to avoid it at all cost. When failure is experienced, it is often seen as an endpoint in a journey instead of a brief detour or change in route. The question of how to change this mindset is one that is often neglected when working to facilitate skills for student success and, ultimately, life. However, when searching for solutions to this challenge, it becomes obvious that key elements for success must include clear and attainable goal setting and a frequent and effective self-reflection process.

Sticking with the traveling analogy, it stands to reason that experiential learning is a journey and beginning that journey without a clear destination in mind is futile and pointless. Even if the goal is to aimlessly explore and enjoy wherever life takes you, there is a destination, or goal, of some sort. While traveling, it is also good to keep in mind that when construction, a traffic problem, or an obstacle in a planned route arises, a detour can bring about many new and helpful experiences. The discovery of new places, the skill sets of flexibility and problem solving, and the knowledge of a better way of traveling for the future are all benefits to diverging from a planned path. Whatever it is that alters the planned route to a destination, the “failure” experienced in the pursuit of that original route is ultimately beneficial and one can only know this by reflecting on those experiences, understanding lessons learned, and setting a new course for success.

Eaton High School’s current resolution, or “problem of practice,” is to help students “demonstrate goal setting and reflection to foster critical thinking.” With this goal at the forefront of instruction, EHS provides prime examples of students utilizing digital resources for experiential learning, goal setting, and reflection. One of those examples can be seen in Jennifer Hamzy’s Psychology classes. Mrs. Hamzy uses Google Suite in two ways to provide EHS students with opportunities to reflect on content as well as course progress.
By copying a Google slide deck template, students receive detailed notes over chapter readings and lessons. In addition, these slide decks ask students to respond to reflection questions individually in their copy of the slide deck. They not only are able to increase understanding by making connections to complex psychology concepts but they can also go back to see their answers as they review information for course activities and assessments. Mrs. Hamzy’s students also receive a Google sheet that includes built-in fields and formulas for tracking assessment results and course progress.
This creates more student independence and allows students to see measured progress and areas of need or growth in one quick glance. By frequently documenting personal course data, students who find themselves in situations where they are facing an obstacle or failure, of sorts, can begin to see areas where they can alter their course and focus on a change in strategy for progress and growth, thus correcting previous failures and pushing forward.

While many students have the opportunity to learn practical lessons associated with experiential learning, some have thrived and begun to acquire the “grit” and perseverance necessary to push toward their goals. E-portfolios are an amazing tool for accomplishing this and for providing students with a platform for self-branding, goal setting, self-assessment, and reflection. One student who is an ideal example of utilizing digital resources for goal setting and reflection through experiential learning is Megan, a student in Kristal Holmes’ architecture course. Megan has set goals for herself related to professional architecture, design preparation, and future employment. She utilizes Google Sites to house her e-portfolio showcasing her collection of designs and floor plans as artifacts documenting her work and progress over the course of her studies.
Megan’s work with tiny house design is exemplary of how she documents her design experiences, reflects on them in her portfolio and makes new and improved designs that incorporate lessons she learns from previous architectural designs. Megan’s experiences in Mrs. Holmes’ course have also offered her the chance to develop skills and resources for her professional goals by participating in mock interviews and professional document preparation while constantly receiving feedback for improvement. All of these experiences with goal related tasks give Megan a chance to experience field specific work and tools that teach necessary skills and aid in driving her toward her destination.

Curtis Aguirre’s Spanish I students also utilize digital feedback and reflection tools as they practice using the Spanish language orally. These students use a web-based video tool called Recap where they are able to record themselves speaking Spanish and then receive video feedback concerning their recordings from their instructor and peers. Students can also record self-reflections regarding what they are working on and about their progress with course content. This feedback and reflective work are key to students seeing any challenges as areas needing focus rather than permanent set backs and failure.

Kathryn Watson’s French students are also frequently provided with opportunities to reflect on course assessments and grow through use of Poll Everywhere for informal personal and class reflection. Mrs. Watson uses this online survey tool for in-class reflections, discussions, and exit tickets assessing student feelings and understanding of course content. By allowing students to regularly utilize this tool for reflective tasks, they are being given the opportunity to think back on learning experiences and to contemplate how they dealt with previous assessments and challenges before attempting new ones.


With a true growth mindset at the forefront, anyone can find value in working through obstacles and reflecting on failure, which then facilitates independence, positive behavior changes, life-long learning, and permanent skill development. The learning process is incomplete without reflection. Rather than spending the new year resolving to learn knitting, overcome a personal fear, or lose weight, it would be beneficial to reflect on previously abandoned resolutions and begin to see failure as a temporary road block or detour pushing toward growth rather than a dead end. If we hope to see our students begin to drive themselves into the future, we must help them change views of failure and learn the “rules of the road” by discovering new perspectives and unearthing new routes along their journey to success.

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