Learning from failures

My school took part in Bookbuzz - a programme run by the Book Trust whereby students get to choose a title from a specially selected range of books, and the school buys it for the kids to keep. This was great - the kids were rearly enthused and excited by the process, and it was really heartening to see so many kids pawing excitedly at books. The first thing I got asked almost every library lesson was "Have our books arrived yet?!"

The books eventually arrived just before the Christmas holiday, so I was able to give them out as early holiday gifts!

I thought I'd try to capitalise on this wave of enthusiasm by running a competition - who doesn't love a competition?! The students could enter the competition in one of three ways:

  • Designing a new book cover (front and back, including blurb)
  • Shooting a short video (a book trailer, a scene from the book, a video review...)
  • A piece of writing (a short story based on the characters, an alternative ending, an article about the author/book...)

This was the first time I'd run anything like this, and didn't really know what to expect. I'd hoped that the students would maintain their early enthusiasm and that I'd be inundated with submissions. Lots of kids told me they were planning on doing something, or were working on something. The deadline came and went, and I was a bit down about how few entries I had received 1. Twelve students handed in cover designs, one student submitted a video and none opted for the creative writing option.

I've been reflecting since then about what I could have done differently to increase participation. I think there were a few factors limiting the success of my first competition:

  • Last minute - I only really started thinking about and planning the competition at the last minute. I had no idea what the prizes would be (I still don't know - I'm waiting to hear back about budgets for them). The most frequent question I was asked by the kids was "What's the prize?". Perhaps if they'd known what they were competing for, they may have been more motivated
  • Marketing -  We started well with the marketing - an eye-catching poster, letters home to the parents encouraging them to get involved with the process, informing all staff of the competition and encouraging them to engage with the students. However, I feel I could have done a lot more to keep the competition at the forefront of students minds. When I'd mention the competition in the first library lesson after the holiday, the number of students who looked at me blankly was striking. I really needed to employ the marketing adage "start early, repeat often" if I was to have any hope of getting the competition into their minds!
  • Time - I'm not sure I gave the students enough time. Not all of them had finished their books by deadline day - they read at different paces, some only read in their library lessons.
  • Opportunity - Maybe I could have dedicated a library lesson to them working on their competition entries - they'd have no excuses then!
  • Choice - I may have given them too much choice as to what to submit. If I'd said "design a new book cover" and given them all templates to work on, that may have been easier for them to take in (but then I wouldn't have got that video submission - far and away my favourite competition entry!).

I was left feeling deflated after this experience, and it did nothing for my ever-present sense of Imposter Syndrome. However, I feel as though I've learned a lot from this, and am now better placed to run a much better competition next year. Bring it!

Asides

  1. when I told my line manger later how many entries I'd had, she seemed to think it was a perfectly respectable number, so maybe part of the problem is that I just need to manage my expectations better

3 thoughts on “Learning from failures

  1. Nice one, Dan! Sounds like a fun competition. I think your reflections are lovely and honest and will probably work. I might add - get other faculty involved. Are there English/ graphics/art/media/computers teachers who could partner with you? Can the Prin plug it at assembly? Display entries in the foyer of the office or something perhaps...

    Try not to be deflated by the number of entries, thinking back to my own time at school some of the most important events for me were things that were wildly unpopular - year 7 poetry club had only 4 members but it was really life and identity affirming for two of us. Year 9 debating team - 3 students, year 12 physics - 7 students, senior jazz band - 8. Not every event/activity/class is for every student but it still might be worth doing if it is meaningful for some. Xx

  2. Good lessons. You know I agree, especially with the marketing one! Students have so many other things grabbing their attention, plus lots of time to forget over the holidays... Good luck with your next comp!

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