In traditional classrooms, teachers hand out assignments and set deadlines. Students complete those assignments, meet (or not) those deadlines, and then live with whatever grade they receive.
If I had held to this routine last year, many of my students would have flunked, and I would have been in trouble.Why?
First, as the graphic above points out, in the real world, students have the opportunity to redo and revise their work. For example, when I took my ACT in the early 1990s, I did not like my first score, so I took the test two more times. On my second try, I lost track of time during the reading section, so the score in my best subject suffered. My overall score remained the same. I could not let this stand. My third try resulted in my highest score, one that I was happy with. I could have continued to take the test, if I had wanted to.
Second, about 20 percent of my students were on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which required that they be allowed to redo assignments for which they’d scored less than 70 percent. Some of those students process concepts at a slower speed than others, and some struggle with concentrating in a regular classroom. Had I not followed these students’ IEPs, I would have been in trouble. Additionally, I think the opportunity to revise their work not only benefited students on the IEPs, but also the rest of my students.
Why? This question leads me to others:
- What are we teaching our students if we say they can only make one attempt on an assignment?
- What are we telling the struggling student if we say he cannot redo the assignment that he didn’t understand?
- What are we teaching the struggling student who could not focus that day because of his home-life or some other crisis?
- What are we saying to the student who excels, but wants to recoup those one or two points she lost because she forgot to check her work?
My answers: We are telling students to get the assignment done, and then forget about it. We are telling students that it is okay to quit when the going gets rough. We are telling students that working hard at something will not change whether they are “smart” or not. We are denying them a growth mindset.
The expectations we establish and the kids internalize is that they cannot improve. If you did well, great; if you failed, well, what did you expect?
I see this mindset when I try to teach my students how to revise and edit their essays.
As soon as I ask students to begin the revision process, they start complaining:
“But I already did this!”
“I did the best I can. There is nothing else I can add/remove/reorganize!”
“I’m done. Can I play Cool Math?”
What if we taught our students that all assignments are a process?
Just like with the grown up standardized tests, we’d still give students specific assignments and deadlines. Once the assignment is completed, I would grade it and enter the score into my grade book as usual. But then, I would give each student the opportunity to reflect on their performance and revise any assignment (other than standardized tests or district-required benchmarks that we have no control over) of their choosing. Students who failed the assignment would be required to correct and return it.
That sounds like a lot of work, huh?
Looking back at the graphic above, one attribute of the aforementioned standardized tests is that students must pay a fee in order to take (or retake) them. Some tests, such as the LSAT lawyers take, can only be retaken three times in a two-year period. To compensate for the fact that my services are free to the students, there ought to be some limits. All would have one week to revise and resubmit the assignment. Students who just want to recoup a few points on an already passing score would have the opportunity to work with me during a study hall/after school tutoring session. Students who received a failing score would be required to attend a tutoring session at least once in that week before resubmitting the assignment.
Giving students the opportunity to revise their work will teach them that hard work pays off, that thinking critically about a problem will result in solutions, that getting good grades is about the effort you put into it, not just an innate and unattainable aptitude for the subject, and that their teacher cares enough about them to work a little harder to help them be successful.
What do you think?
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma graduate student, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students’ voices and choices.