Enter the failure gap, honour your vomit to identify problems worth solving

I was asked a few days ago about whether students can, or should be able to set their own assessment tasks. It’s easy to think they can – but the number one activity of young people online isn‘t problem solving, it’s information-seeking. They are not alone, most adults want the answers – show me where, give a link to, how do I … and get upset if you don’t vomit up the answer.

So back up a little, put down you’re techno-back pack and look around the room that you’re in.

 Where are the problems to solve? How do student’s know what they look like? Are the problems projected or written in a rectangle and how is this different to looking at the world through a flat web-browser?

If a student was asked to set their own assessment – I’m pretty sure they’d set one that fits inside some sort of rectangle.

Before deciding yes or no, it makes sense to know how good they are at identifying problems worth assessing – and what the teachers role might be.

What happens if they solve a math problem using World of Warcraft, or find a passion for drawing by playing Animal Crossing, is that a rectangle too far?

It’s likely student identified problems won’t line up to with current scope and sequences or standards or pass through the scan-a-tron useful to mass cattle-grading systems. Likewise, large portions of syllabus’ concern themselves with content. The idea being that this is important stuff to know (and there are types of knowing). Students assume that as you’re teaching it, then to someone thought it was important, so it’s likely to be on the test. This makes students who are good at the test appear knowledgeable but strikes me as a big problem in a world bursting with information, and ever more complex problems that information itself can’t solve. At what point in the day does a child get to identify a problem, and work creatively to solve it. What is there in the classroom that might spur them to do it?

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish someone had told me…All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste…But there’s a gap – that for the first couple years you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…it’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game…is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you…A lot of people never get past this phase…they quit.”

Technology is growing, which is a big problem if it’s only maturing outside of formal education. In the classroom, it seems students can’t begin to learn to solve problems, without firstly learning how to identify them and then to develop strategies – which of course involves failing.

It therefore falls on leaders, to allow teachers to put students into places where they can identify problems and work on them creatively. Along the way, they will still need structure, information and skills, but I don’t think teachers would argue with that.

I have always had a dislike of the idea of ‘integrating ICT’ into classrooms as though it will create better or more meaningful work. Most of the people I’d list as being ‘great’ teachers using ICTs are learning that if their latest project fails it will spur new ideas and helps them gain necessary skills, and should view it as a success, as it may inspire something better down the line and is worth doing.

This idea was somewhat explained by, of all people – Lady Gaga who talked about ‘honoring your vomit’. This might sound strange to look to Lady GaGa over Sir Ken, but interesting people are often interesting because they are not talking about education, but about a process of learning, especially film makers, musicians and artists.

The creative process is approximately 15 minutes of vomiting my creative ideas…And then I spend days, weeks, months, years fine-tuning, but the idea is that you honor your vomit. You have to honor your vomit – you have to honor those 15 minutes.”

So if we mash this up in the classroom, what we might try is to kick off the day with 15 minutes of creativity, just trying ideas on for size and seeing what problems we can identify from it for another 15 minutes.

If you are fortunate enough to have an IWB in your primary classroom (my kids have no such access sadly), then go and buy a Nintendo Wii and a game called Animal Crossing. It won’t break the bank and doesn’t need a network engineer, just plug it in and let kids play on rotation for 15 minutes at the start of the day. Then let them spend 15 minutes doing something creative.

That’s it – you’ve just put yourself in the gap – now you (and your students) can start identifying some problems worth solving … and you can spend 30 mins a day working on it everyday.

4 thoughts on “Enter the failure gap, honour your vomit to identify problems worth solving

  1. I like how you articulate this creative process. I recognise what you say, just not sure I could have said it so eloquently. Isn’t it interesting how an idea can be tumbling over and over in your mind for weeks and then something happens and you churn out some creative output in a second. People think it just happens but it is the end result of countless hours of vomit.
    This is how we write units of work with our students including assessment tasks. We are getting really good quality, well researched and beautifully presented work from students who have negotiated their own learning and we are having fun in the process.

    • Thanks Greg, one of the great unspoken barriers, especially for new teachers, is getting a shot at the scope and sequence, to allow some tinkering and experimentation. I think maybe this is something for Head Teachers to actively encourage, and would start a great conversation around their ideas and the NSWIT demands.

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