Productive Failure

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Babies learn to walk in this way. Preschoolers learn to button, tie, and zip to dress themselves in this manner. However, the idiom can now apply even after children enter school. In the article, “How ‘Productive Failure’ In Math Class Helps Make Lessons Stick,” Katrina Schwartz explains that productive failure is not just the idea that persistence pays off. Rather productive failure is an effective teaching strategy that involves “careful lesson design, a strong classroom culture and an instructor trained in getting results from small failures so his or her students succeed when it matters.”

The idea is that teachers are trained to develop math tasks that students will not be able to solve but that evoke a students’ prior knowledge relating to the task. Teachers also receive training to gain deeper content knowledge to assess student ideas and misconceptions as well as learn how to set the classroom environment to foster failure as a natural part of learning and not an embarrassment.

The Quantile Framework can help teachers to develop tasks that promote productive failure. Using the tools available on Quantiles.com, teachers can select activities to both develop challenging tasks and tasks that ensure prior knowledge. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Quantiles.com.
  2. Click “Use the Quantile Framework” at the top of home page.
  3. Select “Math Skills Database.”
  4. For the State Standards search, select the state in the dropdown list.
  5. Select the grade level or name of the math course in the Course dropdown list.
  6. Select the specific standard in the Standard dropdown list. Click “Search.”
  7. A list of Quantile Skill and Concepts (QSCs) targeted to the standard will appear.
  8. Click a QSC to view more details including its Knowledge Cluster. The Knowledge Cluster provides insight into Prerequisite, Supporting and Impending Quantile Skills and Concepts.
  9. To help create challenging tasks, click a QSC number for a Supporting or Impending QSC to see free challenging resources.
  10. To access resources to build prior knowledge, click a QSC number for a Prerequisite QSC to see free resources calibrated to a prerequisite skill or concept.

To learn more about productive failure, read the research of Manu Kapur, Professor of Psychological Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong.

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