Failure is a critical part of the learning and the design process. As a result, good design should never be about the avoidance of failure, but the embrace of it. There is a wise saying that goes: “fail often to succeed sooner.” This idea is an acceptance of reality. We do not produce better work by holding out for perfection. Rather, it is through exploration, experimentation, prototyping and iteration that we learn the limits of the design problem more quickly. This is what makes well-designed games so addictive: they allow players to quickly move through their mistakes, so they can triumph in the end.
Unfortunately, education is not always approached in this manner. Rather than allowing failure to exist as part of the learning process, it is an endgame scenario, invalidating student efforts. Worse, it is sometimes used as a prompt for social humiliation. This transforms the "learning" experience into a stressful all-or-nothing act of social survival, taking the emphasis away from accruing knowledge and skill, and shifting it to playing the system and beating the odds. Students at the top of the class spend more time appeasing the system than actually pursuing their authentic interests. Students at the bottom of the class give up, write themselves off, and shift their focus elsewhere. No one is satisfied. Worse still, students eventually define their identities in this manner, holding failures against themselves and others. This can lead to common social ills such as bullying, and apathy.
I personally believe this is a problem. I do not believe the answer is to “fail more students” in the conventional sense - thereby creating an artificial hierarchy of academic snobbery in the classroom (and inflaming paranoia). Rather, my hope is to create a classroom environment in which all students have an equal opportunity to fail, and to fail often, as well as an equal opportunity to learn from these failures, without fear that their mistakes will be held against them till the end of time.
Students who do not take the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, of course, do not pass my classes. Students who do learn, and are able to physically demonstrate this learning, however, have hope. Students who never make mistakes learn very little. I am less proud of them than the students who do.
I have spent years contemplating the subject of classroom assessment. Many of my approaches and methods exist as a result of, or in response to, the broad array of student situations I have encountered over the years. Learning from these experiences has lead to the development of the grading criterion, grading schedules, and grading philosophies I use in my classes today. It has also contributed to my development as a person.
It is not a perfect system. Like my students, I continue to learn from my mistakes. However, I can guarantee you that my intention is not to be a nice teacher, nor a cruel one, but a fair one. If this disagrees with you, please feel free to seek out another teacher's classroom.
(More about: Student Dissatisfaction)