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Do you remember the time when you were a student? How did you identify yourself? Were you a “quiet achiever”, “know-it-all”, or careless “day dreamer”? The bets are high you can still remember your biggest class epic fails, assignments you secretly hated because you were not as smart as that annoying kid with a strange surname.


Ironically, failure syndrome is terrorizing even “super achievers” too. The reaction to failure is different, what appears to be motivating for one student may turn to be paralyzing for another.


We all have different perceptions and learning ways. For online education, where teachers’ actions are rather limited, it is especially important to support students who often flunk tests.


The way failures affect student’s mind


What can be worse than failing a test? Only failing a high-stakes test. Once, the Stanford's staff wrongly informed students about test failing, sure thing for the science sake, but what came out was far from expected.


Over 80% of studied group projected emotional reactions that looked nothing like productive studying mood: embarrassment, lack of motivation and procrastination.


Everyone speaks and writes about the importance of personal motivation nowadays. But remember how it used to be. Sometimes it’s hard to find motivation, sometimes motivation finds you, but as a rule, it’s too late for a project. Why does this happen? Let’s find out from the common root-cause factors.


Common root-cause factors of failures


The study revealed that the most widespread psychological reasons of failures are: bad study habits, distracting external factors, unclear instructions and again fear of judgment.


The teacher is the main motivator and influencer in the class. The fixed mindset is what often passes from teacher to student, meaning that obstacles in learning are wrongly associated with general abilities required for the subject, rather than individual talents.


The teachers applying a flexible approach encourage learning process, treating each mistake as an opportunity to learn. Other problems they easily solve with explanations, clarifications, and special practices.


Applying practices from best colleges


The key ingredient for educating students should be a sense of emotional safety and control over task performing, in which failures are the components of learning progress. In the best colleges around the world, the education is more tailored to the individual learning patterns. This is done especially for students having problems in learning. Some of them are described in more detail down below.


Problem #1

No analysis, no self-contribution. The student finally submits a paper, but there’s no analysis or critical thinking in it.


Solution. Clarify the value of individually conducted research, encourage sharing personal opinion even if it doesn’t blend with other students. Create templates for assignments that would include the field with “outcomes” or the one where students describe how they understand the collected data, how it can be applied and what improvements can be suggested.


Problem #2

Cheating/plagiarism. “It’s just your word against his word, - which you claim is your word”. In the Wikipedia era, it seems only the lazy one doesn’t cheat.


Solution. First of all, teach students how to cite and reference and highlight the importance of it, as sometimes plagiarism is unintentional. The most effective way against cheating is prevention.


Make an individual version of the test for each student, notify them that each variant will be different, this way you can eliminate the temptation for cheating. Specify what can be considered as plagiarism and ensure submissions are authentic with a plagiarism checker. 


Problem #3

Mistakes, poor formatting. When it comes to preparing a serious project, inattentiveness is frustrating. It negatively affects students marks  even of the smartest students.


Solution. Create and share a document that would guide students across all the stages of the assignment accomplishment. If the information needs to meet certain standards, - like APA, MLA or Harvard formatting provide appropriate sources to the official sites. In case university uses a custom format provide the link where the student can look up for them. Tools that can be used for eliminating grammar and spelling errors will be useful too.


Provide timely feedback and encourage making tweaks independently, only this way students can realize which typical errors and misspellings are chasing them.


Problem #4

Missing the data. Every human being is often forgetful and unintentionally misses a good chunk of essential information. Sometimes, sequence of events is mixed up, so articles, novel or story rendering is distorted.


Solution. Teach students how to create and use checklists. Allow them to use special outlines if they need to render a big part of the book.


Just like your average “to do-list”, checklist is a plan of action that is structured in the bullet points or sequenced by numbers, according to the priority of the action.


If the assignment is big and complicated it can be built in the form of tasks and subtasks, smaller chunks will make it look more manageable. Each point of the checklist can include a particular estimated time, f.g you can allow 45 min. time frame for the essay writing and 20 min. for the revision, this will help students stay more organized.


Checklists are also good for writing and remembering information. Checklist for authors usually include facts, questions to address, and keywords that uncover main ideas.


Problem #5

Lack of understanding. Right, the problem is usually followed by the word “math”. Some students lose motivation if the solution method is not 100% understood, while others hand in blank pages.


Solution. Avoid giving assignments unless all students show the method used is clear to everyone. Create test assignments to check their understanding first, and only after that assign a final one.


Math is an interesting discipline and there’s a way to show it to the class. Show students that the problem can be solved differently. The more ways will be discussed and tried the deeper their understanding of the topic will be.


Bottom line


Being a good teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it, - it's challenging and there will never be an end for improvements. Nevertheless, you can be a true mentor, true master Yoda for students, inspiring them, teaching how to overcome hardships in studying and how to apply the learned material. The main point is to let them see how they can control the situation and work on it, this will dispel their fears and help them find the path from failure to knowledge.


*the pic is used under CC0 1.0, via





Victoria Vypovska

Academic Integrity Advisor

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