Comfort with a Fail Up Mindset


I hate grades.

I don’t hate feedback or rubrics or growth measurement tools as a whole, but I hate grades. I know I’ve talked about this before; about how humans are more than a symbol, and how important feedback is, and how I believe the future of education must include a limitless growth measurement system. (Actually I didn’t truly process just how much I’ve talked about grades until looking for a few blog posts to tag on this post and realized I had a ton of posts on grades.)

I think the biggest thing that bugs me about grades is that I feel that they limit my drive to be creative because I don’t feel comfortable to put the possibility of failure aside.

When I try to be more creative and do something new for a project, it doesn’t always work out correctly. That’s life. When you try new things, eventually you will fail. That’s why at MVPS we always talk about “failing up”, because we know failure will come eventually in any authentic process, and you can’t necessarily control that; however, you can control how you react to the failure. By failing up it means that you will learn from your failure, and take feedback from the failure to improve your next iteration on an idea.

Failure is valuable. I often learn more from failures than successes. However, grading systems are not designed to allow comfort to fail up.

When your idea for a project doesn’t work- doesn’t fulfill the intended goal you were trying to achieve- you don’t get a good grade. That’s just how it works. Grading systems only look at the final product and access if you achieved your intended goal on the first try. So why try something new if there is at least a 50% chance that something won’t work and then your grade will suffer? Why look for a creative opportunity if you know you have a better chance at being successful, in terms of grades at least, with your old traditional way? Why take the time and effort to do something big and exciting, if a small and non-standoutish presentation is more likely to check the boxes of “what you have to do”?

I live for the creative and different moments in life. I want to try out new ideas for completing assignments. I want to make things exciting and engaging for others.

But when I try and it doesn’t work, I get a worse grade and I don’t feel motivated to try again. I don’t feel like I got feedback on what to do next time to make it better, I just feel like I know this didn’t work. I feel disgruntled because I know I worked hard and know teachers appreciate us trying to think creativly, but my grade doesn’t tell me anything about what I did, or the difficulty of what I tried to do.

And I really hope I’m not communicating this type of perspective like, “wow I totally didn’t deserve the grade I just got. What was the teacher thinking? This is dumb, I hate grades.” Because that isn’t at all what I’m saying!

In fact, given the grading system as it is, I think the grade is accurate, and not even horrible. And I love the teacher that this project was for. Plus I totally understand the feedback provided to my partner and I, and I know now that the presentation formate we choose didn’t quite teach the class the best. It just makes me feel more hesitant about trying new things, because the truth of the situation is that as far as school is concerned, grades matter.

I just wish grades made me truly feel that it was okay to “fail up.”


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