Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Lance King’s new blog site

11 Mar

Hi there,


I am now publishing blogs on a slightly different site.

If you would like to read the first in a new series of blogs please go to


Lance King



5 Jun

Fantastic article on my Madrid talk by Timothy Kelley, Director of the International School of Stuttgart



Lance King, an inspirational educator tells a story about taking his children bungy jumping. But, believing as most parents do, that we need to challenge our children to make them stronger, he tells them to ignore the guides who talk people through the challenge of making the first jump.  He tells his kids to stand at the edge, look down, listen to the voice screaming in their head to walk away, quiet it, and then jump.  Michael Thompson, someone I refer to frequently, tells a story about being with a group of kids one cold morning, about to jump into a lake at a summer camp.  They were all shivering and afraid, but, one by one, jumped into the lake and then ran back to the fire.

The point of commonality in both stories is that all of the kids in…

View original post 488 more words

The Importance of Failing Well

2 Apr

The Importance of Failing Well


 Lance G King

Copy of this article is available at


A study of intellectually gifted students at a New Zealand high school has revealed one significant factor that distinguishes the highest achievers from the lowest achievers.


This factor was 100% significant – present in all the highest achievers and absent in all the lowest achievers.


This factor was their ability to fail well.



The Discovery:

From 2006-2008 as part of the requirements for my Masters degree, I was lucky enough to get to work with a wonderful group of GATE (Gifted and Talented Education)  students in my local high school. The group included students from all grades, from 13–18 years old, all bright, interesting and interested and a pleasure to work with. My investigation was into any links between their resilience and their academic performance.


Their resilience was gauged using a standard questionnaire approach focused on measuring both their Locus of Control (LOC) and Learned Helplessness (LH) orientations.


During the study all the students sat a major end-of-year examination in their school subjects. Based on their exam results their teachers then classified them into either the High Achiever, Achiever or Underachiever group of students.


My first discovery was that with these students there was no connection at all between their academic success and their resilience. Some helpless, external LOC kids were succeeding well and some resilient, internal LOC kids were bombing out.


My curiosity then led me to control for resilience and look further.


Pairs of students with identical resilience scores were then formed with one member of each pair being from the High Achiever student group and one from the Underachiever student group. The Achiever group of students was taken out of the analysis to help make the extremes more explicit. Five pairs of students were identified in this way making ten students in total. All ten students were then interviewed and their responses analysed.


Across all five pairs of students the practical strategies and internal characteristics of the High Achievers that were noticeably different from the Underachievers were:

  • involvement in extra-curricular activities
  • intense interests or passions
  • intellectual curiosity, academic engagement, a drive for understanding
  • gaining enjoyment from significant challenge
  • an active and clear goal focus
  • using active strategies to learn from failure
  • choosing to succeed.


But it was around the concept of failure that the greatest differences were found.


Failure in this study, was defined as not reaching a goal. Setting a goal, to win a game, to get a certain grade, outcome, performance and then not achieving that goal.


Their responses were very revealing.


While both the High Achievers and the Underachievers had all attributed failure to a lack of effort in their questionnaire data, a noticeable difference between them was elicited from their interview data. The High Achievers all reported actively applying long term effort-based strategies for academic achievement, whereas the Underachievers only reported applying effort in response to immediate deadlines.


Similarly with procrastination, all interviewees reported procrastination to be a problem for them but whereas the High Achievers were actively taking steps to get on top of the problem, the Underachievers were succumbing to it and resorting to last minute urgency to get them through.


The understanding and acceptance of failure was also strongly exhibited by the High Achievers in their interviews in contrast to the Underachievers. The Underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives. The one Underachiever who acknowledged failure in his life reported feeling completely overwhelmed by what he saw as the total failure of everything in his life and so rendered himself completely helpless.


The responses to failure reported across the five Underachievers were:

  • denying failure
  • using ability attributions to explain any setbacks
  • using no obvious strategies to reflect on and learn from mistakes
  • eliminating any subject or task in which failure was experienced
  • avoiding any situations where failure was possible
  • believing that every personal action resulted in failure and it was impossible to change
  • denying any successes
  • focusing on own short-comings
  • disengaging from the subject matter
  • being content with underachievement.


In comparison the responses reported by the five High Achievers in dealing with failure were:

  • using effort based attributions for any failure
  • focusing on learning from mistakes
  • being adaptable and achieving to the level of personal best
  • using hard work, talent and organisation to limit failure
  • being prepared to try new strategies and apply more effort
  • establishing absolute control in important areas
  • using precise goal focus and the application of organisation and effort to minimise failure
  • viewing failure as temporary and specific
  • taking responsibility for own actions in any failure situation.


Taking my lead from the information security industry I called one response to failure, failing well and the other response failing badly.


Reaction to failure:


Failing Well



Failing Badly

  • Acknowledging your failures,

taking responsibility for your own actions,

working out what you did wrong,

making changes,

and having another go


  • Blaming the school or the ‘system’
  • Blaming other people
  • Pretending you never have any failures
  • Adding drama to failures to avoid dealing with them
  • Avoiding any activity that could possibly result in failure
  • Dropping any activity after the first failure
  • Making the same mistake over and over
  • Universalising failure


My study seemed to suggest three conclusions:


1)    That maybe there was a direct relationship between failing well and academic success for all students not just gifted students


2)    That it seemed that there was only one way to fail well but there were many ways to fail badly


3)    That the idea of failing well could create a new model of success. Previously, for any endeavour (goal, plan, task) there were only ever two possible outcomes – success or failure, but with this model there were always three possible outcomes, success, failing well and failing badly, and two of those were positive.


Which led me in turn to the hypothesis that there was a causal relationship between failing well and academic success. That learning to fail well actually produced academic success.


Then I set out to see if I was right.



The Confirmation:

For the last five years I have worked with many thousands of students, their parents and teachers in 10 different countries testing out this model and the results appears to be consistent across the world:


– Students who fail well do better, much better, than students who fail badly.

– Teachers who fail well do better.

– Parents who fail well do better.


The key to it seems to be in the reprocessing of failure.

I suggest the following steps:

1)    Get over your emotional attachment to the word failure. Failure is just feedback. Feedback on what you aren’t doing right yet

2)    Second, admit every failure – immediately. Remember that the definition of failure is simply not reaching a goal

3)    Take responsibility for your own actions in not achieving that goal

4)    Make changes

5)    Have another go


Take a school situation as a simple example – imagine your child has just sat a Maths test with 10 questions and they have got 6 out of 10 correct.

What do they do with the 4 out of 10 they got wrong?

This is the crucial test.


Children that practice failing well will look at the six out of ten they got right and feel OK about that, they passed. And then they will look at the four out of ten they got wrong and ask why. Then they will analyse each question, work out exactly what they did wrong and make corrections and make sure they know how the correct answer was arrived at.

Then they will do a couple more problems similar to each one of the ones they got wrong until they are confident they have nailed them all. Then they will put the whole test behind them.


Children that practice failing badly will look at the six out of ten and feel OK about that, they passed. Then they will put the whole test behind them.


The secret seems to be in re-working any failure. Making sure you have another go, whatever the situation is, but making sure you change something first.


To help with this both teachers and parents need to reframe the word ‘failure’ and help children to understand that failure is a necessary part of growth and learning and there are two distinctly different ways to fail.


In the school situation the greatest challenge may well be to de-stigmatise the word failure and to create a classroom climate where children feel safe to fail. Only then will students be able to examine their own reactions to failure and practice building up the skills of failing well.


From now on every task, every goal, every performance has not two but three possible outcomes – Success, Failing Well and Failing Badly, and two of those are positive. By adopting this model you instantly increase the potential for success by one third.




Lance King (B. Tech, Dip. Ed(dist), M.Ed(hons)) is an internationally recognized author, teacher and workshop facilitator who, in the last 18 years, has worked with over 150,000 students worldwide. He is the creator of the Art of Learning programme taught in over 200 schools in ten countries and is a specialist in the direct teaching of ‘learning skills’. Within the IB he has been instrumental in the development of the Approaches to Learning programme in the new MYP and the subsequent Approaches to Teaching programmes. He is married with four children, lives in Raglan, New Zealand and divides his time between teaching and presenting workshops for teachers, parents and students around the world and writing –



Referenced academic paper on this topic available at:



Full thesis on this topic available at:

The Teaching Revolution

3 Jun

I work with students in many high schools around the world and over the last two years I have asked every class I work with the same question – “How many of you have a web-capable phone?”

Two years ago the response was about 5%, today it is usually around 80% and just recently I had my first 100% response.

This is significant.

How long will it be before every child in every classroom has a web-capable phone…………that they’re not allowed to use?

Right now there are:

  • 6 billion cell phones in the world (world total population is 7 billion)
  • 85% of new phones web enabled
  • 2 billion broadband subscriptions
  • 255 million websites
  • 150 million blogs
  • 8 trillion text messages sent in 2011
  • 107 trillion emails – 89% of which were spam

How long will it be before:

  • every piece of subject matter is available to every student on the internet, and
  • they all have access to internet linked tablets, and
  • they all have access to high speed broadband all day?

What will teaching look like then?

What will be the key skills that students will need in order to cope with and take advantage of this environment?

This is not the future, this is today!

Imagine a school where:

1)the entire focus of teaching is on the processes of learning, where the aim of every lesson is the development and improvement of the skills of effective learning, using the subject matter of the lesson as the material for the student to practice their learning skills on

2) in every class students work in groups of 3-4 with one high-speed internet linked data tablet device per group

3) the objectives for each lesson are stated by the teacher as:

– the learning skills to be practiced

– the subject matter  to practice those skills on and the best web-based sources to use

to find that subject matter

– the questions to be answered

4) where learning is by true exploration and enquiry.

I believe that right now we stand on the brink of a revolution in education, the DSRLPOSBGIL revolution, which is not a revolution in learning because everyone has always learned best this way, what it is, is a revolution in teaching! Maybe the most significant one in 200 years.

The revolution in education involves teachers abandoning ‘transmission’ teaching and adopting principles of skills based, guided inquiry learning (SBGIL). This means teachers teaching the skills of good learning using their particular subject matter as the ‘meat’ for students to practice the skills on. It involves students utilising net-capable devices, working in small groups, accessing subject-based websites, practising learning skills like searching, selecting, verifying, validating and corroborating information as well as social skills of collaboration, communication, team work and maybe even affective skills like perseverance and persistence. In this scenario, teaching becomes about making explicit all the processes of learning and guiding the students on a pathway of enquiry to achieve specific measurable content and process based outcomes (POSBGIL – Process Oriented, Skills Based Guided Inquiry Learning). Helping the students to ask the right questions but never providing the answers.

What this new type of teaching is not about is teachers using the internet as just one more textbook. When every student has access to all the information in the world 24/7 then the most marketable skills will be the skills of good learning. How to find the right information, process it well, extract what you need and move on having learnt something new. These are the skills of the self-regulated learner and in order to become competent in these skills children need to be put in the position of practicing the regulation of their own learning – hence DSRLPOSBGIL (Developing Self Regulated Learners through Process Oriented, Skills Based, Guided Inquiry Learning).

The most motivating learning has always been self-regulated learning (self-directed, self-managed, autonomous, independent) and yet up to now the infrastructure of education has not allowed for learning by exploration and discovery except at the elementary level. The proliferation of internet based school subject websites and the ubiquity of data delivery devices has changed all that.

Teachers no longer need to be the ‘font of all knowledge’ they just need to know where to send their students to find everything they need. This means that every teacher needs to be familiar with every website that deals with their particular area of expertise and to know those websites well enough to design every lesson around the content found there. The school must have the infrastructure in place to support one device and one high speed internet connection per four students. NOT one computer per student, that only increases isolation and decreases collaboration, communication and memory – this is very important (see Sugata Mitra’s paper or video )

Then the focus of teaching can be moved to the inculcation of effective learning skills.

Intrinsically motivated learning is achieved through the application of a dynamic, internally controlled set of metacognitive, cognitive and affective processes that positively influence a student’s tendency to approach, engage with, expend effort on, and persist in tasks of learning in an ongoing, self-regulated manner. Exactly what everyone does when they are learning something new that they are intensely interested in.

Metacognitive processes are those that focus on the self management of learning – planning, implementing and monitoring learning efforts – as well as gaining the knowledge of when, where, why and how to use specific learning strategies in their appropriate contexts. Cognitive processes are those which focus on developing the particular skills necessary to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge or skill, and affective processes are those that focus on such non-cognitive aspects of learning as motivation, self concept and the skill of selective attribution.

The best students in the world, those whose study is most effective in helping them to pass their examinations, all have one characteristic in common, the deliberate use of a variety of learning strategies.  In other words they treat learning as a process requiring many different techniques and strategies depending on the subject and the context . They actively seek out options for every stage of the learning process, they try out different things and they notice what works and what doesn’t. To do this the best students are continuously engaged with both the subject matter they are learning and the processes they are using to learn that subject matter. They view any learning failure as a failure of process rather than that of the individual, they find better processes and apply them, they reflect on the results and they continually improve the success of their learning efforts.

Unfortunately the direct teaching of learning skills is still uncommon in most school programmes. Studies show that only 20% of teachers believe that teaching students ‘study skills’ is a priority and only 17% of students report that teachers actively help them to learn or improve their study skills.

It has often been said that most of the jobs children in school today will take have not been invented yet and that most of today’s children will have at least 5 different careers in their lifetime and will need to be able to re-invent themselves for each career change. Also it is said that 95% of jobs in the future will involve information processing through an electronic interface of some kind.

A 2007 survey of 400 hiring executives of major USA corporations asked what knowledge and skills they were looking for in potential future employees. The results were, in priority order:

1)      Oral and written communication skills

2)      Critical thinking and problem solving skills

3)      Professionalism and work ethic

4)      Teamwork and collaboration skills

5)      Ability to work in diverse teams

6)      Fluency with information technology

7)      Leadership and project management skills

Knowledge of mathematics came 14th on the list just ahead of science knowledge and foreign language comprehension.

In the UK in 2007 the Department for Education’s own research in Learning Skills and the Development of Learning Capability concluded that “the results suggest that the development of learning skills and capabilities should be embedded in the curriculum, as well as being taught explicitly to pupils.” By 2008 the QCA had created their own “framework of personal, learning and thinking skills essential to success in learning, life and work” which required students to become:

  • Independent enquirers
  • Creative thinkers
  • Reflective learners
  • Team workers
  • Self-managers
  • Effective participators

Unfortunately due to a change in government or a change in focus by 2011 the QCA had been disbanded and its functions absorbed by DfE and all trace of this programme lost.

In New Zealand we have a new curriculum which focuses, at least in part, on the development of what are called the 5 Key Competencies:

  • Thinking
  • Using language, symbols and text
  • Managing self
  • Relating to others
  • Participating and contributing.

Poland has the following set of skills and competencies that have to be acquired by the end of lower secondary education:

  • Reading
  • Mathematical thinking
  • Scientific thinking
  • Communicative skills
  • Technological skills
  • Information usage
  • Self-orientation
  • Team working

Other OECD countries that have similar overarching sets of key or basic skills or competencies include Belgium, Italy, Korea, Mexico the Slovak Republic, Spain, and Turkey.

In the USA, 46 states have now agreed on a common core curriculum of 21st Century skills to be taught at the elementary level. Called the Elementary Integrated Curriculum (EIC) it includes:

Academic Success Skills:

  • Collaboration
  • Effort/Motivation/Persistence
  • Intellectual Risk Taking
  • Metacognition

Creative Thinking Skills:

  • Elaboration
  • Flexibility
  • Fluency
  • Originality

Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Synthesis

All around the world educational organisations are coming to grips with the need for schools to engage students with learning what are often called 21st Century Skills, however only within the International Baccalaureate (IB) is that support explicitly differentiated into a specific subject of its own, Approaches To Learning (ATL) within the Middle Years Programme (MYP).

ATL skills have been broken down into five clusters:

Organizers Skill clusters
Thinking Critical thinking, creativity and innovation, reflection and transfer
Social Collaboration
Communication Interaction and literacy
Self-management Organization and affective skills
Research Information and media literacy, and critical literacy

Within those clusters more than 165 individual skills have been identified.

The first task for students is to self-assess their present levels of skills in each of these areas and from then on to monitor their own progress from Novice – Expert in each skills cluster by gaining proficiency with the individual skills within each cluster most suited to their age and abilities.

Level 1

The Novice

– observation

Level 2

The Learner

– emulation

Level 3

The Practitioner

– demonstration

Level 4

The Expert

– self-regulation

Observes others performing tasks and using the skillGathers procedural information about the performance of the skill, asks questions to clarify procedure

High levels of scaffolding from teacher needed –  explanations, training, structural support


Copies others performance of the skillIs very conscious of performing the skill and correcting errors with deliberation

Performs skill only with known content in known context

Medium level of scaffolding needed –  correcting poor performance, answering questions


Can demonstrate the skill on demandCan perform skill either with different content or in different context

Minimal teacher scaffolding required – setting directions, goals, assessable outcomes

Can perform the skill without thinking through the process firstCan teach others the skill

Can use skill with unfamiliar content in unfamiliar context

High levels of performance occur

No teacher scaffolding needed


Such ‘process skills’ analysis raises the student’s awareness of any skill deficiencies which can then be addressed in the learning skills programme. It also exposes the student to the possibility of a range of skills they could learn and strategies that they could try which might have a positive influence on their learning success. This is the first awakening for some students when they realise that children who seem to learn much easier than them are probably using skills and strategies that they too could learn.

The second task for students is to become aware that they can take positive self control in learning situations and plan deliberate strategy use and in doing so increase both their sense of personal competency and their learning achievement. This is the metacognitive function that drives the whole learning improvement process and through which the greatest improvements in academic performance can be achieved.

Once perceptions of competency and positive self control in learning are developed, students are much more inclined to try out new cognitive and affective strategies in new learning situations and ultimately develop full control over their own learning and become a fully self-regulated (self-managed, self-directed, autonomous, independent, lifelong) learner.

The challenge for teachers is in moving from transmission teaching where the teacher is the font of all knowledge to a more facilitative style where the teacher is helping the students to discover the information for themselves.

The most effective method is through ongoing, process focused teaching by subject teachers within standard subjects. The process focused teacher is the one whose highest value is the teaching of learning skills and who uses their particular content as the vehicle through which to teach effective learning processes. This is not to deny the importance of any taught content but is an approach which brings about a dual focus in the classroom – on both content and process. Many studies have shown that the most uniformly positive results in terms of academic engagement, understanding, transfer of skills and high performance in assessments come about through a focus in the classroom on learning strategy training in a metacognitive, self-regulated context in connection with specific content.

The ‘learning skills’ focus of international and national curricula aiming at developing 21st Century Skills within students has made the development of process focused teaching possible within many educational structures. The proliferation of high speed internet services and the ubiquity of data processing devices has made guided inquiry learning possible in many classrooms. The real challenge is putting the two together.

Luckily we have the experience of others to draw on. In 1999 a national innovation programme was introduced into Dutch secondary education, aimed at encouraging teachers to foster what they called ASRL – Active Self Regulated Learning. Twelve years later the entire project was reviewed – It tells its own story very clearly:

“The innovation focused on the higher grades (15 – 18 years of age) of upper level secondary education, the grades preparing for higher education. It was based on three general ideas:

(a) Self-regulation of learning – students have to learn to regulate their own learning process, considering the importance of life-long learning. This means that students should gradually become the owners of their own learning process. It also implies more attention to the affective aspects of learning.

(b) Learning as active construction of knowledge. Students learn better when they actively construct their own knowledge; and

(c) Collaborative learning. Students should learn in interaction with fellow students. Collaborative learning is seen as a powerful learning environment and collaborative skills are believed to be necessary for future work.”

“The reform implied a fundamental change in teachers’ educational and pedagogical role. The general aim of the renewal was to prepare students more effectively for higher education and lifelong learning. A more specific aim was for students to learn how to regulate their own learning processes. Teachers were therefore expected to focus more on facilitating, supporting and monitoring student learning processes and less on transmitting subject-matter knowledge to students, and to foster students’ ASRL in their daily work practice.”

“However, in the period of early implementation of the reform, hardly any practical examples of instructional methods for this new teaching approach were available. Schools were expected

to develop suitable pedagogy themselves, with the help of educational advice centres. Evaluation studies reported implementation processes that often lacked a clear vision and policy. Teachers’ daily classroom practice did not show much self-regulated learning and activating pedagogy. Many teachers still focused particularly on the subject-matter and learning outcomes and far less on students’ learning processes.”

The biggest stumbling block to achieving the goals of self-regulated learning was that teachers found it hard not to teach.

This is the challenge.

This is why I am pointing to a revolution in teaching not in learning.

It is the teachers who must learn how to stop teaching and allow learning to take place. Only by being allowed to practice the skills of self-regulated learning will students ever become self-regulated learners.

In 2009, the OECD working group summed up their overall findings in ’21st Century Skills and Competences for New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries’ as:

1) Most countries subscribed to the importance and policy relevance of 21st century skills and competences

2) Most countries were attempting to integrate these skills in a cross-curricular way, across subject areas

3) Clear policies for formative or summative assessment of these skills were lacking in all countries surveyed

5) There were few teacher training programmes available in any country that targeted the teaching or development of 21st century skills.

The key to the creation and development of today’s students as tomorrow’s self-regulated learners will be effective professional development (PD) of teachers.

This can be achieved, with well structured PD which focuses on the three strands of developing self-regulated learners (SRL). By teaching teachers:

1)       how to teach cognitive, affective and metacognitive skills (ATL skills)within the context of their subject based lessons

2)      how to make the classroom experience for the students one of skills based, process oriented, guided inquiry learning

3)      how to help students to self assess their content, skills and strategy use through reflection

Of course, recognising that the most motivating, exciting, involving learning is always through exploration and discovery means that all PD for teachers in this field must also be delivered through the mechanisms of POSBGIL (Process Oriented, Skills Based, Guided Inquiry Learning).

If the real goal of education is the creation and development of lifelong learners then I believe that with the innovations of new national and international curricula combined with the proliferation of school subject based resources available on the internet the key infrastructural factors are in place today within most countries to bring about a revolution in teaching and hence a revolution in school based learning.






References for DSRLPOSBGIL:

Vermunt, J. D. (1995). Process-oriented instruction in learning and thinking strategies. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 10, 325-349.

Vermunt, J. D. & Verloop, N. (1999). Congruence and friction between learning and teaching. Learning and Instruction, 9, 257-280

Vrieling, E. M., Bastiaens, T. J. & Stijnen, S. (2010). Process-oriented design principles for promoting self-regualted learning in primary teacher education. International Journal of Educational Research,  49, 141 – 150