If We Don’t Allow A Redo, What Are We Teaching?

One of my favorite nights of the school year is Meet The Teacher Night. It’s usually during the first or second week of classes and it is the first time to see the parents of the kids you just met. Some may see this quick meeting with a group of parents as meaningless. Sure, you could send home a packet with all of your expectations, but the opportunity to speak in front of the group of people who are entrusting their children isn’t lost on me. It is my time to let them know that I not only care about their kids, but that establishing a value of learning is so vital to their children’s success. 

My absolute favorite part of the night is when I see their surprised nods towards each other before looking back at me. This always happens after I tell them that their children can rewrite anything, as many times as they want, until they get a 100. There is no set limit. There is no time frame, other than when we have to post final grades at the end of each quarter.  I go on to tell them that writing is a process and the only way to learn and to improve as a writer is to keep doing it, keep trying to improve on newly taught skills, and keep learning from mistakes. That is the only way to achieve mastery.

The same goes for most tests, quizzes, and projects. Students have all quarter to redo most work to demonstrate mastery. And, yes, they can get a 100 if they do so.

Inevitably, there are some reading these words right now who are giving “the eye rolls”, thinking that I am “one of those”. I am soft and just want students to like me. They probably think that I am a pushover and don’t have high expectations.

But, giving students the opportunity to redo an assignment isn’t weak. It is telling the student that the skills needed to complete the assignment are important. They are so important–so valued–that the students should put in the time to learn them. They will need them. The skills are not something that they can temporarily use and then forget for the rest of their lives.

These skills matter much more than a number in a grade book. They matter so much that if students are willing to put in the work to redo the assignment–relearn it or learn the skills better–then I am willing to put in the work to discuss, reteach, and reassess. Putting a number in a grade book would be so much easier, but this would be a signal that numbers and finality are more important than learning.

Culture Of Learning And Improving

About 12 weeks ago, my class embarked on their first argument research paper. For this group of sophomores, this was a relatively new genre of writing. They’ve done research. And, most have done argument essays. But, putting them together along with incorporating the skill of discussing the validity and credibility of sources and researching multiple perspectives was a new level. Add in the fact that MLA formatting is tedious and you have a challenging assignment.

I purposely began the assignment towards the end of the first quarter. That way, I could guide them through the writing process over a number of weeks, without the pressure of getting in the grade before the end of the quarter. We did a bunch of mini lessons; we did a bunch of writing conferences. We met over content, format, and everything else that went along with this assignment. And, finally, they turned them in for a grade.

Now, I had an idea of the grade before they handed them in because of all of the conferencing along the way. They received their grades and feedback. They then had approximately eight weeks to redo them. Many did so right away; the drive for the 100 is important to this group.

But, one young man didn’t do it right away. He waited until two weeks ago. He was the one I was waiting for. Over the eight weeks, I would ask him, now and again, when he would do his rewrite, telling him it was important for him to learn how to integrate sources, present both sides of the argument, and come to a clear conclusion, all things he was lacking in his graded draft. That didn’t even address the MLA errors. He had his rubric with his grade–which was actually a 38 by the rubric, but posted as 50 in the grade book–and my feedback.

He finally came to me two weeks ago, asking me what he needed to do. We sat together for about 20 minutes, going through everything. He chose to fix the MLA errors and add a couple of sentences. The grade was a legitimate 65 now. He could still add a bunch more content. We met again. He was confused as he thought he had elaborated enough. As we went through examples, he seemed to understand. Another draft…legitimate 80. He not only doubled his grade, but he took the time to learn the skills necessary to write this piece.

The quarter ended last Friday. Grades must be posted by Wednesday afternoon. This young man met me in the hallway on Tuesday, asking about how to improve and if it was too late. It’s not. We have 24 hours. After a conversation about what’s next–source validity and investigation–he’s going to give it another go.

This isn’t a story about a teacher knowing better. It is a story, however, about a student who is working hard to raise his grade, even if he is doing it begrudgingly. He isn’t doing extra credit that doesn’t tie into the objectives of the class; he would probably rather do that as it would be easier.

He’s taking the time to learn and demonstrate the skills that were deemed important in class. He didn’t get it right the first time for some reason. Some of that reason could be poor teaching, or that this particular method didn’t resonate with him. Maybe he didn’t fully pay attention or put in enough work. Or, maybe he just didn’t understand everything in that particular moment. Learning isn’t always linear. In fact, it rarely is.

Whatever the reason, he was afforded the opportunity to learn and apply. It hasn’t come easy, but that’s the point. Giving a chance to redo isn’t about being easy. In fact, a redo is infinitely harder than moving on to something new.

A redo is a sign of commitment; it is a signal that assignment, the assessment, and, most importantly, the skills are important enough to keep trying until you can not only understand them, but apply them.

As an English Teacher, this is easy. Redo is essentially what every good English Teacher does. It is the writing process. We teach kids to draft, revise, revise again, edit, revise, and so on before turning in a piece of writing. But, a redo applies to much more than writing. There is zero reason why most quizzes, tests, and projects cannot be given a redo. If a student is willing to put in the work to demonstrate mastery of a skill, isn’t is worth giving them another chance to show what they’ve learned? Isn’t that the goal of every class?

Yes, That’s The Real World

The counterargument to redos is the idea that we don’t get a redo in real life; we don’t get second chances with deadlines, responsibilities, and with jobs. There are two ways to look at it. First, school is about preparing a student. If a student hasn’t learned the material and hasn’t learned how to apply that material, how, exactly, is he/she prepared for the real world?

Perhaps the intention of preparing a student for the real world is genuine; you mean well. But, the message sent is really this: a kid should get it right the first time; it was communicated to them by a bad grade. The intention of developing a sense of responsibility shouldn’t supercede the simple fact that you, as the Teacher, have no real proof whether or not that kid mastered the skills you were teaching because you chose to move on. They are moving on without a skill.

The second reason is actually the more logical reason. We do get redos in almost everything in life.

Again…eye rolls…

Yes, there are jobs that come with a “life and death” mentality and consequence. But, those jobs aren’t given out until there are thousands of hours of simulation time. In other words, the people doing the most dangerous jobs must put in thousands of hours in order to master a skill. It is only until they demonstrate mastery that they can go into the field and do it for real.

And, that’s the extreme jobs. Those less stressful jobs have the same thing. People aren’t elevated into the high end positions where decisions can make or break companies until they learn the craft and, as the cliche goes, climb the corporate ladder. Craftsmen serve apprenticeships in order to master their skills. Athletes put in hours upon hours of practice time to master their craft. There is time in every walk of professional life built in for failure. That failure allows for opportunity to learn and grow.

In every walk of life, there is a culture of learning and a culture of redo until the skill is mastered. Education–the institution that is supposed to prepare kids for this world–must fully adopt this culture.

Sadly, education, as a whole, has not.

If you are a Teacher like me, you’ve done at least one of these at some point in your career:

  • Posted the wrong grade or comment on a report card.
  • Missed a deadline with paperwork your Principal wanted.
  • Forgot to hand in your plan book.
  • Turned in your plan book late.
  • Forgot to hand out paperwork from the main office to the students.
  • Lost a kid’s work.
  • Handled a discipline situation wrong
  • Put report card grades in the wrong column and messed up the entire system for your school.

The list could continue forever. You’ve probably done some of those at least once in your career. In my 20 years, I’ve done all of them. Yes, even the last one. But, we weren’t fired or docked pay. We were told to do better next time. We were given another opportunity. We were given more training so we mastered the grading system. Why shouldn’t students be given the same opportunity? They should, considering that learning is the reason why they are with us in the first place.

The Outliers

Yes, there will be some students who could look at this redo thing and say, “it doesn’t matter; I’ll just redo it.” There will be a few students who won’t put in the proper work the first time because the redo is there as a safety net. It has certainly happened to me. But, I can honestly say that there aren’t many cases like this. There are a few reasons for that.

First, I am honest with them about the importance of this. It is important to drive home the message that the sooner something is mastered, the easier it is to build on that success. So, we celebrate success when it happens. We set an environment where we want to succeed. Second, if a student is taking advantage of it, it is called out–privately, of course–immediately. Usually, a talk about manipulating a system designed to help takes care of it. Kids realize when they have something that is genuinely in their best interest.

Lastly, and most importantly, students know that the redo is actually hard. Not only do they have to go back and redo, they have to stay current on the work we are doing. They are, in a very real way, doing more. Revising writing is hard work. And, since feedback is not correction, they are still doing the hard part, not merely recopying a teacher’s comments. For tests and quizzes, giving a different version or an alternative assessment can be done. All of those things usually deter the few–the outliers–from shirking the responsibility the first time.

How I Do Redos

First off, I will say that a Teacher has to find a system that work for him/her. What works for me, won’t work for everyone. But, there is one thing I can’t agree with.

A redo cannot be offered for partial credit. It should be for all of the credit. By giving partial credit, you are devaluing the idea of redoing and going back to reinforce learning. You are saying that the number is more important than the learning. And, because you didn’t get it right the first time, you can never master it. It’s the exact wrong message a kid needs to hear. It would be the exact wrong message we, as adults, need to hear.

For writing assignments, it is easy. We are essentially redoing as we go along. If one follows the writing conference model and talks with writers during each step of the writing process and multiple times during the drafting, redos are, primarily, done before the piece is submitted for a grade. Once submitted for a grade and returned with overall feedback, students can begin the redo/revision stage.

There are a few tools that have made life easier. Google Classroom has helped keep things more organized as it is the one place where everyone’s work is housed. Obviously, the collaboration piece of Google Docs helps with feedback. Taking it up another notch, I use the extension Doctopus and Goobric. This allows me to embed a rubric right in their Google Doc, give written feedback as well as audio feedback. Another great aspect to this is that it highlights student revisions, allowing me to easily see the work added or deleted. There are many other tools out there, but this is what currently works for me.

For tests and assignments, students must discuss with me why they want to redo it and how they will prepare. We will revisit any misunderstandings or gaps with learning. That happens before the redo. Then, they are either given the same assessment or an alternative, depending on what the situation calls for. If a different assessment is needed in order for a student to demonstrate he/she has learned the material, then that’s what is used.

Yes, that sounds like a really busy teaching life. And, at first, it is. However, once students realize that the redo is harder than diving all in immediately, most don’t even need the redo. Then, it becomes about working with the students who need a second, third, or fourth crack at learning something.

Again, my system and idea of waiting until minutes before the report card grades are due isn’t for everyone. But, there is nothing wrong with setting a date before the end of the quarter for redos.

Don’t Ignore The “One And Done” Genre

Detractors of the redo will correctly point out that there are some times in life when tests can’t be redone and when people have to perform on demand in a high stakes situation. High School students in New York take Regents exams. Most kids take the SAT. And, there are final exams as well as other on demand assessments throughout a student’s career.

They should not be ignored; they just shouldn’t be the norm. They aren’t the norm in real life either, but they do happen at times. My students will have a couple of writing pieces that are on demand throughout the year. They are written and submitted for a grade. They are graded differently because all on-demand writing is graded differently. Some exams are known to be a one time deal. That’s normal as there are times to see whether or not all of that teaching and redoing “stuck” and/or if students can perform under that type of pressure.

Test taking and test writing is a separate genre and should be treated as such. There is a place for that in education. But, if students aren’t given the opportunity to learn and master skills before heading into these types of environments, how likely are they to find success?

Final Thought

The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.

—Dale Carnegie

It is our duty as an institution to install a lifelong desire to learn. We must teach kids that we will all make mistakes and that they are not an end. They are part of the process of learning. That should be the everyday norm in schools. We must show students that we believe that our content is important enough to keep learning until it is mastered. We must provide students those opportunities on a consistent basis.

A redo isn’t about being soft or not having expectations. It is about showing kids that there are different pathways to learning. Those pathways are rarely straightforward, in both the real world and the academic world.

**Before finishing the final proof of this piece, that young man submitted another redo. He added enough for a legitimate, well earned “A”. He went from a failing grade to an “A” because he took the time to relearn and clarify those skills lacking in his first attempt.**