Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Morgan Read-Davidson

Second Advisor

Ian Barnard

Third Advisor

Jamie Campbell


Failure in academia is commonly defined as not succeeding, missing the mark, or receiving a “below average grade or score” (Inoue 333). However, this perception of failure works to instill a fear in students that may last through their academic journey. Throughout a student’s academic journey, they are taught to operate within the binary of success and failure. “According to self-worth theory, in school, where one’s worth is largely measured by one’s ability to achieve, self-perceptions of incompetence can trigger feelings of shame and humiliation" (De Castella, Byrne and Covington 862). Teachers have attempted to address this problem throughout first-year composition classrooms. One example of this is process based pedagogy that would focus on the steps students would take towards a result rather than focusing entirely on the product that a student produced. Yet, we must ask ourselves: when do we deem the process as successful? The process is deemed successful only after the quality of student’s work has been deemed acceptable by the same assessment metrics as the standard quality-based criteria. What this demonstrates is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding that we associate with failure. Someone who fails is automatically associated with being below those who succeed despite the commonly held stance that failure is the precursor to success.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that instructors will have to assess students. At the university level it is a fundamental truth that institutions will demand that instructors give students a letter grade at the end and though there are new variations of grading that are always being tested, a letter will ultimately define a student’s efforts at the end of class. With the inevitability of assessment, instructors are presented with the unique position of equipping students with the necessary skills to cope with failure through their academic journey while balancing their assessment methods to encourage this. This study will examine the history of our understanding of failure and attempt to provide possible solutions through collecting a series of assignments that could help students in a first-year composition classroom.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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