This year we started the first official Reading Horizons Softball Team. We're terrible. Like really terrible. We have fun… but we LOSE like crazy. It’s painful. Our score last week was 0-20. They didn’t even let us finish the game. Once the other team gets to 20… game over (even if there are still technically 12 minutes left in the game). It’s embarrassing. My new goal for us isn’t even to win… it’s for us to get half of the score of the other team. That would be success at this point.
(FYI: After writing this we met my goal that night and it felt like we won. Below is the photographic proof… that’s 16-9 [us being the 9]… we exceeded our goal!)
Strangely… I still love it. I’m more determined than I’ve ever been in my life to improve my softball skills. I go to the batting cages every week (I still can’t hit…). I play catch for 30 minutes before every game. I ask everyone who knows anything about softball for strategy advice. I hope we need subs some weeks just so we can see if switching out one player helps (even though switching me out would probably make the biggest difference). I’d take any form of success at this point! As anyone who has experienced failure as bad as the Reading Horizons Softball Team learns: failure can be extremely motivating.
Failure as a Motivator
One group of students that are exposed to struggle (and feelings of failure) early in life are those with dyslexia—for whom, learning to read is extremely difficult. For our In Your Own Backyard video series, we interviewed several individuals with dyslexia to learn how dyslexia affected them throughout their lives. A common trend prevailed across all of their stories: their reading difficulties motivated them either to improve their reading or to improve in another area of their life.
Author and Researcher, Margaret B. Rawson, dedicated 55 years of her life to studying the lives of 56 dyslexic boys. Her findings are published in her book, Dyslexia Over the Lifespan, and reveal patterns of learning and achievement for students with dyslexia consistent with those featured in the In Your Own Backyard video series. Rawson discovered that these students tend to be “late-bloomers” in regards to their education and that they usually perform very well in high school and college, eventually finding themselves in successful careers. In fact, the most difficult period for these students is in their elementary and middle school years.
By dealing with a challenge from such a young age, dyslexic students learn valuable lessons that help them develop a strong character. To get through their difficulties they must become determined and patient—qualities that set them up for a lifetime of success.
Failure as a Discourager
However, this isn’t always the case. We talk to teachers every day who are desperate to get struggling readers motivated to improve. After years of failing to learn to read these students want to stop trying. Perhaps if our softball failure stays as intense as it has been until the end of the season: I may never want to play softball ever again.
The saddest thing to me about working for Reading Horizons and to anyone I tell about my job, is the number of inmates that struggle with reading. It’s easy to see how struggling with reading made them feel demoralized in the classroom, so much so, that they sought alternative and destructive paths trying to find a place to belong and succeed—only to end up in correctional facilities.
How to Help Students Learn from “Productive Failure”
How do you find the balance? Is there a way to preserve the motivating power of failure while minimizing discouragement? ...