If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Michael Jordan Says It's OK To Fail

I am currently reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. I'll save my overall thoughts on the book for a later post, but a train of thought that started while reading her book fits into this week's theme of sports and school. The basic thesis of Dweck's book is that there are two kinds of people out there, those who believe that our abilities are malleable and therefore work to improve themselves, and those who believe that we're basically stuck with what God gave us and therefore whine and complain a whole lot. I am seriously oversimplifying here, but you get the basic idea.

In her chapter on sports, Dweck runs through a series of athletes who display the "growth mindset," the belief that ability comes as the result of a lot of hard work. She mentions the following Nike commercial featuring Michael Jordan (I love YouTube; you can find anything there).

Her point is that successful people take each failure as a chance to improve, something they know they have to work harder at. For me, this is one of the lessons of sports that is most valuable in the classroom. In sports, you practice. You play a game or a match. You either win or lose, but even when you win, you make mistakes; so you come back to practice, and you work on improving those skills so that next time you do better.

The classroom should function on a similar cycle. You learn new material. You take a test on that material. The vast majority of students will make some mistakes on that test, so you come back in and you work on learning from those mistakes and further expanding your skills.

As a Spanish teacher, one of the biggest impediments to learning in my classroom is the fear of making mistakes, and therefore the fear of speaking at all. I try to get my students to see that it's just like practice, and that if they don't give themselves a chance to fail, they will never learn. If it worked for Michael Jordan, it will work for them.

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