Alfie Kohn makes an argument today for recognizing children even when their attempts fall short (in the sense we use “recognizing” when talking about what we do with badges). He asks, “have you ever met a child who doesn’t regularly experience failure and frustration? I haven’t.” Haha! True, and consider your own story as well. How often is life punctuated by experiences of failure and frustration? And, more importantly, how do your experiences of failure fit in the story you tell yourself about yourself.
The stories we tell ourselves about our failures are part of an evolving learned response to those experiences.
He points to research showing the possibility that children who experience failure will begin to see that they might be failures. This has interesting effects. As part of protecting against that image, they might not try as hard to create in advance the possible excuse that they could have done much better if they had been trying, a potentially higher self-estimation.
Instead of the cultural demand to expect experiences with failure, why don’t we talk about trying to figure out how to ensure that kids’ failure experiences are constructive?
As people cope with failure, they might explain away the failure, and/or strategize about what to do in the future. More or less engagement with future challenges could result.
Kohn sees some activities that emphasize failure coming out of a cultural emphasis on introducing failure to children: “a game in which the point is to slam a ball at someone before he or she can get out of the way, or hand out zeroes to underscore a child’s academic failure, or demand that most young athletes go home without even a consolation prize (in order to impress upon them the difference between them and the winners)”
And the subtitle of the article is “The case for self-esteem, success, and even an occasional participation trophy”, which are examples of intervening “to relieve the pain.”
One of the final takeaway bites from Kohn is, “When kids’ performance slides, when they lose enthusiasm for what they’re doing, or when they try to cut corners, much more is going on than laziness or lack of motivation.” (Incidentally, this is much like a lot of the open badges community’s thoughts about those who dismiss badges as simply “stickers” or rewards, often referencing Kohn’s “Punished by Rewards”.)
For the badges research call this week, we might consider this kind of recognition from the perspective of badge system design. What kind of claim might we embed in a badge about these experiences, and what could a badge like that say about an earner that would also have value to that earner?
Carla has been talking about the “myth of the lightweight badge,” how the “accretion” of many badges can be analyzed on the meta level, in the aggregate to show deeper patterns about a user’s activity. Another thing I got from her post is that some badges that look insignificant to an issuer or any random outsider may actually have some stronger meaning to the earners that would lead them to keep and display the badges. This meaning may emerge when you see the whole pattern the user curated for you or read any annotations on a learning pathway that includes seemingly insignificant badges.
Small as they might be, participation badges (for example), do serve the purpose of transmitting the fact that we (culture) value the fact that risks were taken, challenges confronted. We value kids’ engagement. The claims that badges could make about various events considered “failures” are varied. Maybe the question to ask yourself when designing badges for “failure states” would be if you could see how that badge might be a useful component of a positive self-story about their engagement over time.
What did they learn? How can you tell (what assessment?)