Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Redos and Retakes

One of the seminal moments in my life as an educator occurred about fifteen years ago when my school’s administration required teachers to practice mastery teaching with an emphasis on allowing redos and retakes.

Of course, the teacher’s lounge was abuzz with questions and critiques of the new policy. Redos and retakes took the brunt of the criticism.

Today, I’m an unabashed believer in retakes and redos; my “answers” to the more common criticisms follow.

Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable with redos and retakes thanks to my own experiences, my colleagues, and, in particular, the writings of Rick Wormeli and Ken O’Connor.

Complaint 1: Students need to be held accountable
I agree, students must be held accountable for learning.  So which policy holds students to a higher standard? One in which we allow students to fail or skim by with a D or one in which we use redos and retakes to ensure student mastery?

Students need multiple chances to grow and learn. Each teacher’s goal should be for ALL students to master the essential learnings.

The research of Carol Dweck shows that if we teach students that their intelligence can increase, they will do better in school. In her ground breaking book Mindset, Dweck speaks of the benefits of a growth mindset, meaning that people believe that they can improve their abilities by dedication and hard work. As teachers, we must ensure students view failure as part of the natural learning process and an opportunity to improve. The long-term consequences of one’s mindset impact the entirety of a person’s life. As teachers, we play an important role in instilling a growth mindset in each of our students. We must teach our students to rise to the challenge of our high expectations, to continuously learn, and we must reward them for their sustained efforts.

Requiring students to master their learning through redos and retakes until they meet your high expectations demands far more of the students than letting them accept a failing grade.

Complaint 2: Students will take advantage of retakes by not doing their best the first time.
Honestly, this was one of my greatest concerns when I first began allowing redos and retakes. I was soon assuaged that it wasn’t a problem. Because the redo/retake required an additional commitment (time and effort), students never banked on getting to redo it. 

Complaint 3: This isn’t how the real world works.

Last time I checked, you’re allowed to take driver’s test, SATs, ACTs, GREs, Bar Exams, and MCATs multiple times. Honestly, it sounds pretty pompous and petty for any teacher to say, my quiz on Chapter 6 is more important than any of the aforementioned tests.

Could you imagine how many people wouldn’t have their driver’s licenses if it was one and done? Confessional: I wouldn’t—parallel parking got me the first time.

When you enter your doctor’s office, does the diploma and certification on his/her wall distinguish whether it took him/her 1, 2, or 3 times to pass the MCATs? Of course, not.

I’ve since left the classroom and have entered administration. I wish I could say that every teacher has met every deadline, but I can’t. For a variety of reasons—some good and some bad—deadlines are missed all the time. And this is not unique to academia.

Need other examples?
  • The publishers who suggest corrections and modifications before the author resubmits his work reject authors.
  • Bosses would ask to see/hear a presentation before the young businessperson presents it to clients. 
  • The apprentice plumber who works side-by-side with a master plumber who continually provides corrective feedback.

When it comes down to it, pretty much every “real world” job allows for redos and retakes. The investment capital makes it impossible to fire an employee for one failure. We must invest in our students by reteaching and retesting whenever they don’t meet our standards.

Complaint 4: They won’t have the opportunity to redo work next year in….
They won’t have time to redo work in college.

Let’s dissect this bit-by-bit. First, I don’t think it’s a true statement. Although I haven’t stepped foot on a college campus in two decades, please allow me to share one of my own experiences. One of my most challenging college classes was US History, Part 1.  Everyday, upon entering the class, we were greeted with a five-question multiple-choice quiz. If we scored below a 4/5, we were required to write an essay covering the chapter(s) covered by the quiz. Students were assigned either a passing or failing grade for each chapter. The professor’s message to me was clear: each student bears the responsibility for his/her learning. Nothing less than a 4/5 is acceptable. Not only did this instill in me grit and responsibility, I also learned the material.

As a ninth grade World History teacher, when students entered my class on the first day of the year, I wanted students who were proficient in world geography (the 8th grade social studies class). I could care less, if it took the student one day or the entire year to master the geography curriculum.  

Our high school recently held a roundtable in which we invited recent graduates to return and speak to students and teachers. A teacher posed the question about redos and retakes to the college students. Unanimously, the students voiced their approval of redos and retakes. One high-achieving student stated, “[The teachers who allowed redos and retakes] set a high bar; one that challenged us to do our best.”

Another student chimed in, “I felt better prepared for college because I had to master it [the content].”

These students experienced firsthand the value of redos and retakes. Through practice, re-teaching, feedback and retakes, these students mastered the learning and developed a growth mindset. To be adequately prepared for their next year, whether it’s 1st grade or college, students need to know the content and the skills.

Complaint 5: It’s not fair to the students who do well the first time.
The ability to retest should not be limited to low-achieving students. High-achieving students benefit from retests and retakes. When a high-achieving student scored a B on a test, he/she was often the first to sign-up for a retake.

Side note: Knowing that they have the opportunity to redo/retake a quiz or test, I’m willing to bet that the high-achievers will be less likely to cheat because they know they have a second chance.

Anecdotally, only rarely did I have any of my high-achievers complain about my retest policy—No, it wasn’t because they didn’t voice their concerns to me. I heard plenty of complaints about my projects, my lectures, my expectations, etc.  Those who did complain most likely were used to an educational system that distinguished between the elite and non-elite.

We must move away from the I taught it; I tested it; Most of the students got it philosophy. Instead we must ask ourselves, “When students don’t get it, what do we do?”

We must answer, “We reteach and re-assess.”

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. London: Robinson, 2012. Print.

O'Connor, Ken. How to Grade for Learning: Linking Grades to Standards. Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight Professional Development, 2002. Print.

Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2006. Print.


Wes Weaver said...

Reed, you totally nailed it. Right on all counts.

Sarah Whisenhunt said...

This was a refreshing analysis. However, as a fellow Virginia public schools educator, how do you confront/combat the climate of SOL/EOC tests? I am a non EOC test teacher, but I see my students every testing session stress the possibility of not being able to expedite. True, they do get a retake in the form of retaking the class, but they are so focused on getting that verified credit and the passing score. Also, students who make the proficient score can't retake to get advanced.

What I'm trying to convey is how to you get our SOL/EOC/ABCD/FGHJ students to buy in to mastering those standards and not on the actual test score they receive?

Reed Gillespie said...

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Your questions are ones that every SOL teacher struggles with. How do you ensure true and meaningful student learning and not just SOL success? I think each teacher needs to balance the unique needs of his/her students to determine how they approach this.

My personal opinion is that this is less of a redo/retake issue, and more of how do you approach your teaching. For some students, passing the SOL is meaningless, but for others passing the SOL test might represent a great accomplishment. Each student is different. My job as a teacher is to ensure that each student is appropriately challenged and has an opportunity to learn and grow throughout the year. While some might believe that SOLs are a measure of teacher effectiveness (the tests can't/shouldn't be ignored), we must look beyond them and keep our focus on learning and growth.

Hope this answered your questions.

Tim Bedley said...

I've been REQUIRING my elementary students to redo inadequate assignments for about 20 years. Teachers need to get into their kids' heads in order to be effective. What do kids value most? The majority favor having their assignments in the past more than they favor good grades. So the motivation is built in to do quality work if they know that they will have to redo it until they get it right. Most elementary students these days will gladly take a low grade just to know the assignment is done and over with. The focus needs to be on learning, not on completion.

Reed Gillespie said...

Great points Tim. By doing as you suggest your instilling a growth mindset in your students, which is a true life lesson and one that will forever make a difference in your students' lives.

Ryan Reed said...

Just saw this post on Twitter and decided to put some thoughts on my own blog here:

Kate Gardoqui said...

This is so wonderful - I am going to send it to all the principals with whom I work. You explained this so powerfully. This piece will be a tremendous resource.
One quick question: I had trouble understanding this sentence:
"The publishers who suggest corrections and modifications before the author resubmits his work reject authors."
Can you help me out? thank you!

Catherine said...

Great article, thanks. A practical question: did you change the tests for the students who were retaking it, or did you let them retake the same test? Thanks!