Sunday, 5 February 2012

Success and Failure: The Power of Locusts

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same..."
I've been reading a lot this weekend about failure - a great way to spend a Sunday! It is really interesting to me how students cope with failure and learn to bounce back. Last week I wrote about praise, and how good praise can really move students on if they truly understand what it was that worked and what didn't. On reflection, I think more and more that the same is true for failure, but it depends entirely on the student's attitude towards both these things. Do they believe their success / failure was of their own making?
"I've got that locust thing you were talking about"
Last year I ran an A/A* conference for around 60 of our most able Y11 students. They had the afternoon off timetable, a free buffet lunch, and revision workshops focusing on analysis, transferrable skills, and revision strategies to suit different learning styles. The session I did with them was on the external and internal locus of control (thanks Julian B Rotter for a great idea and even better name!).

In a nutshell, from a student with a strong external locus of control, you might hear:

  • "The question was difficult."
  • "The teacher is rubbish."
  • "I was unlucky."
  • "The dog ate it."

A student with a strong internal locus of control will say:

  • "I didn't revise."
  • "I didn't bother doing it."
  • "I forgot."
  • "I fed it to the dog."

The workshop was about students realising their mindset and starting to take more responsibility for their successes and failures. The link with praise is crucial here. If you praise success rather than the process of achieving success, then you can reinforce an external locus of control. What does someone do then when they have to face failure? Maybe Kipling had a point.

One of the more memorable results of this approach was when I found one of my Y13 students working in the library and almost fainted with shock. He was a bright student, but had got As and Bs at GCSE without a lot of effort (his C grades were down to a absent teacher, a disruptive class and not being told the right thing to do). He never met a deadline, ticked jobs off the list without doing them properly and generally cruised along in Y12, just like he had the year before. It was here he met his failure. Totally unprepared, as this hadn't happened before, I had a chat about what his outlook on life meant. He was an absolute text book case of external locus of control. Once armed with this knowledge he was able to start to change things around - hence working in the library rather than taking it easy in the common room. His explanation: "I've got that locust thing you were talking about".

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