Mere minutes after composing the above tweet, I gave up writing the post and headed home for the weekend. There are a half-dozen barely begun posts in my blog queue that will likely never be written. This post almost met a similar fate, but I cannot let this one fail; the title begs to be finished.
One of my biggest failures (among many) as a composition instructor is not inspiring enough intellectual intrigue in my writing students. On the whole, I have exceptionally bright students but their writing topics don’t always reflect their abilities. While grading their last papers in December I realized that I had failed to encourage more creative work from them. During our semester together, I never told them that it was okay to try something ambitious. Instead of pushing for their best work, I subtly encouraged safe work by not modeling failure. To borrow a phrase from Brian Croxall, I need “stop worry1ng and <3 teh fail!!1!” That statement comes from the title he delivered during an 2011 MLA session called “Hacking the Profession: Academic Self-Help in an Age of Crisis,” where several Profs. Hacker discussed the problems of academia and dealing with failure. Croxall’s talk highlighted examples of failure being used productively to inspire success and I intend to do just that.
One of my biggest pedagogical failures in the fall semester was the second major writing assignment in Comp. 1. Our broad course theme was food and the assignment was so construct an informative essay related somehow to food using Storify as the platform for the essay. Despite my enthusiasm and good intentions for the assignment, it did not go over well. For one, people–not just students–are resistant to new things and adding a brand new technology on top of first year writing seemed like too much for some people. After initially modeling Storify for my classes, my patience for technology instruction ran dry. I was not as receptive to tech questions as I should have been and I left many students to figure it out on their own. Though there’s nothing wrong with leaving learning as the responsibility of students, my poor attitude got in the was of more productive teaching. While most of the Storify essays were quite good, I still failed in my pedagogical goals.
I intended to use this assignment as a means to spark creativity and move student writing outside the walls of the classroom, but I never communicated that to my students. Many were so afraid of the technology (and failure) that they felt creatively stifled. I can and will do better.
In my Comp. I classes this semester I am, again, assigning an essay written in Storify. This time, though, I plan to have fun with it. I have already told my classes on several occasions that I welcome adventurous work and all-but-promised that boundary-pushing work will be rewarded despite whatever initial setbacks they may encounter.
When has failure been a springboard for your future success?