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Who’s doing all the work? Who’s having all the fun?

Posted by on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Commentary.

Part 1: Five steps to incorporating productive failure into your course

by Cynthia J. Brame, CFT Associate Director

Several years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a talk by Barb Stengel, Professor of the Practice in Vanderbilt’s Teaching and Learning Department.  She had a mantra that she repeated throughout the talk to frame her comments: “Who’s doing all the work? Who’s having all the fun?”

Those two sentences have stuck with me. They made me think about how much I love to struggle with puzzles and problems, and how much joy I get from creating order from chaos when I’m learning a new subject. Barb’s point was that we all feel like that: that the work of learning is what brings the joy of learning. And she wanted us to see that this applies to our students too.

These sentences have resonated with me for six (!) years, and every faculty member I’ve shared them with has had a visible reaction: a pause, a nod, a smile. So I think it’s worth exploring different ways to bring the joy of intellectual work to our undergraduate classes, starting with this post about productive failure.

Productive failure is a teaching approach that deliberately asks students to solve problems that they are not yet prepared to solve—leading to “failure” in the short term—as preparation for direct instruction. During direct instruction, students’ imperfect solutions are used as tools … [more]


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