Monthly Archives: December 2015

Learning From Failure: A Conversation

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

At the close of this fall semester, PAA Artist-Educators Ainsley Buckner, Ben Horvat, and Lauren Sammon gathered to discuss how learning from failure plays a part in their work as artist-educators and as practicing artists outside of PAA. They also reflected on how they observed students learning from failure during their work this semester in our partner schools.

One theme the group immediately came to when discussing failure is the idea of adaptability.  “I’ve learned to adjust my instruction to meet students where they are at.  Even if I’m teaching the same lesson, I know each class is going to be different,” explained Sammon. Horvat also agreed, “As an artist-educator, you have to be adaptable.  You can’t show you’re frustrated when students aren’t grasping a concept.” He added that by making lessons modular this semester, he was able to allow students to experience success when everything came together at the end.  Modular lessons (lessons that are contained to one session rather than over several weeks) also helped him manage classes where attendance from week to week was inconsistent. Horvat avoided having students feel like they were behind and failing by having a different lesson or project each session.

The group also agreed that balance in the classroom is an important part of enabling students to learn from failure. Buckner described balancing activities that allow students to experience accomplishment quickly with challenging tasks that might result in failure the first few times.  “There has to be a series of peaks and valleys in the classroom lab,” she explained.  Sammon agreed.  She described her methods of balancing time on design challenges with other activities students are comfortable with.  She also added, “One way I help to create balance in the classroom is empowering students who are succeeding to help others work through their challenges.” Buckner also mentioned that it’s important to understand how students communicate.  “I’ve learned to balance students’ frustration. If someone is acting out, it might be because they are experience difficulties and do not know how to communicate their frustration.”

In reflecting on their work over the course of this semester, each member of the group has learned a lesson that they are going to be taking with them in their personal studio practice as artists. “I’ve learned that there are different approaches to confronting failure.  As an artist, you have to decide, is this something I can fix or do I need to start over,” explained Buckner. Horvat agreed and also added that he plans to explore collaboration in his practice.  “I’ve learned that it’s important to collaborate to help clarify expectations of your work.  I’m looking forward to dividing labor to help projects succeed.  I learned that this semester.”


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