Lesson that Fail: What You Have to Learn, Part I

In my husbands job, they have a phrase they use in the tech field, “fail fast.” The gist of this phrase is to cut losses when testing reveals something isn’t working and quickly try something else, a concept known as pivoting. 

My Ugly truth

Well, here is my art lesson that I failed. The lesson not only was a fail but I failed to fail fast (try saying that three times fast). It was a Chuck Close inspired lesson. It was a group of resilient students who made it to my Advanced Placement level art class. 

We took self portrait photos, we used Photoshop to restrict the values and pixelate. We printed. We gridded paper. We created, scanned and printed value charts with different values. And then they started cutting, and gluing. Here are two finished examples. 

   You’re probably thinking, “Those are not fails! You show off.”  To that I say, “Oh yes. Yes it was.” When I look at one of these examples, I recall bumping into the mom of one of these students. It was at least a year or more after I had her child in class. We made small talk. She reminded me of what “fun” that assignment was, how the whole family pitched in cutting squares for the assignment. How she still finds little crosshatched squares in nooks and crannies of her house still! I wanted to die a little inside.

And yes, these two look great. After hanging successful ones in an art show, I even had students asking me why can’t they do that assignment. Not all the finished ones looked as good as these two, I assure you. Three weeks of class time on a project and some didn’t finish and for others, it just wasn’t a portfolio worthy piece. We made it through the year and my AP scores were actually pretty good. But the guilt, I still feel it. What a colossal mistake. 

Oh, how many ways there are to fail

So, we do what we have to in the moment of failure. If it’s a quick fail you might stop, think on your feet. You might pull out a trusty class time filler activity. You retool. Or you move on completely. You own the problem and say, “Kids, sometimes life doesn’t work out as expected. Today we are starting something new. Let’s forget about yesterday.” Or, like me, you are forced to soldier on and make the best of things. That’s the pivoting in the failing fast philosophy. 

And not all projects are a clear fail. Some work one year and not another. Sometimes it’s as finicky as you ordered a new brand of ink and it didn’t behave as expected. But a failed lesson always calls for reflection.  

The postmortem

Time for a postmortem. A project post-mortem is a process for evaluating the success (or failure) of a project’s ability to meet goals. You ask yourself, were the lesson objectives met as well as in evidence in student work? If not, what went wrong? 

Stay tuned for Part II with my post mortem, in all its gruesome details. And you can help! Do you have ideas for how this lesson could be retooled? Do you have a lesson that has some similarities that might be a good substitute?  Spill the tea. Write to me at info@myartlesson.com.