Xiaodong Lin, Associate Professor of Cognitive Studies in the Department of Human Development, will share her research about how to capitalize on students’ fear of failure to improve their motivation and STEM learning. She will speak by special invitation of Joyce King, President of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) at the organization’s annual conference in Chicago, on Saturday, April 18, from 10:35 a.m. to 12:05 p.m., at the Hyatt West Tower, Gold Level, Regency Room C.
The panel will include Lily Din Woo, Director of TC’s Cahn Principals Academy; Janice Jackson, Chicago Public School Chief, and Donella, Carter of the Chicago Public Schools; Shi Zhong-ying, Dean of Arts and Science, Beijing Normal University; and Sian Leah Beilock, Vice Provost of University of Chicago.
Lin has studied why so many high school and college students abandon or never finish in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors, despite aggressive promotion and high demand for graduates in those disciplines. One reason, she found, is the high level of fear of failure and anxiety in learning STEM-related topics.
Lin’s soon-to-be published study, coauthored by her TC graduate students Anny Feng, Myra Luna Lucero, Danfei Hu, and post-doctoral student Janet Ahn, found that in most STEM classes, students learn only about the successes of famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Michael Faraday, and not about their numerous setbacks and failures. This prompted students to conclude that success in the sciences requires not effort, but genius, and discouraged students who didn’t believe they had the innate talent to succeed. In fact, Lin and her students write, “presenting only the achievements of famous scientists actually intensifies students’ fear of failure and demotivates them to learn STEM topics.”But research by Lin and her co-authors shows that, after reading stories about how great scientists failed and struggled many times before succeeding, students had higher and positive expectations for what they can achieve. They showed significantly better performance in STEM courses than those who read stories that emphasize only the scientists’ triumphs. Lin says several high schools are beginning to integrate story-based instruction about scientists who failed in their STEM advisory classes.
Failure—or the fear of it—can also drive people to succeed, Lin says. “Fear of failure is a double-edged sword; it’s motivating, or it’s depressing. The consequences of failure—you can decide.”