We currently live in an age of contradictions. It’s easy-peasy to find an article or study that counters any other article or research study out there. I’ve read a plethora of articles on the value and benefits of allowing students to work towards mastery of a concept or skill through re-dos. It fosters a growth mindset and allows for genuine learning opportunities, these articles state. However, I’ve also perused some research that promotes the counter-point to re-dos, arguing that it fosters a sense of laziness and a lack of preparation within students, since they know they can retake the assessment or redo the work as many times is needed to demonstrate mastery of the objective. So, where’s the truth? Somewhere in the middle? Is allowing students to re-do work beneficial or harmful? Like anything in life, it all depends on the circumstances and situations. Teachers who hold their students to high standards and expectations may find benefits in allowing students to re-do work, while teachers who do not embrace the concept of Growth Mindset may not have the same success rate with the re-do process. Is one method more effective than another? I believe that when teachers create a sense of care and support in the classroom by teaching the concepts of brain plasticity and Growth Mindset, allowing re-dos is a necessary component in the process of learning. It teaches students that failure and perseverance are valuable tools students need to be successful while on their journey towards learning.
When I was a student in middle school, my teachers were not a part of the re-do club. The focus was on being completely prepared for a test, project, or other assessment. It was all about the one-and-done mentality. Those students who study and prepare well for the big test, will find much success in school, or so teachers who adhered to that philosophy believed. What about students like me who suffered from test anxiety? Or, what about the students who have a history of trauma and high stakes assessments are triggers for them? How are they supposed to demonstrate their understanding? If a student has a bad day or is faced with other learning challenges like I had in school, the one-and-done approach will not work. Students need to know that they will have the ability to re-do work that did not allow them to demonstrate mastery of the concept covered, or, I fear, that the system will fail them and they will become disenchanted by school. Students who do not fit into the “normal” hole many students are forced to squeeze through, will see school as a negative space that causes frustration and constant struggles if they are not allowed to re-do their work when they have a bad day or are faced with learning difficulties. Learning is a journey, a process, and school’s are not assembly lines for robots. Because I was not allowed the opportunity to show what I really know, in many situations and classes, when I was in school, I learned to see school a series of hoops I needed to jump through to escape to freedom. I completed work that I knew would make my teachers happy, and because of it, most of the effective learning I did occurred in college and out of school. I wish my teachers had made use of the re-do process when I was a student in their classrooms.
As a teacher, I challenge myself, each and every day, to undo the injustices that I faced as a student in school. I don’t want my students to see school as a game of trickery and subterfuge. I want my students to want to come to school and learn because it is engaging and fun for them. I want my students to see that I care for and support them in their learning adventures. I want to help my students see the benefit in striving for academic excellence. I want my students to hold themselves to high standards. I want my students, many of whom have hurdles they must overcome in the process of learning, to be and feel successful. I want them to have every opportunity they need to show what they know. The re-do process is one of the many ways that I can help to support and challenge my students as they learn, fail, grow, and keep working towards mastery in all aspects of their academic lives.
Last week, a student struggled to showcase her understanding of various concepts regarding shapes on a math assessment in class. Despite working with her one-on-one and assessing her orally during the test, she was unable to meet a few of the graded objectives. I informed her that I will be looking for ways to check for understanding in the coming days and weeks as she reviews the material. She seemed happy about that. A few days later, when we were in the school vehicle on our way to a very cool overnight field trip with the class, I decided to reassess her orally. It’s important to know that this student struggles with focus and processing information. Executive functioning skills are at a deficit with this student. In the very loud van, I asked her some questions regarding the material covered on the test from a few days prior. Despite the chaos within the van, she was able to demonstrate mastery of the objectives that she had been unable to meet two days before. Even in a loud vehicle, on our way to the Sargent Center, this student showed me that she knows how to differentiate between the different types of triangles and quadrilaterals. Amazing!
I shared my excitement regarding this outcome with her. She smiled and seem pleased with herself. I told her that she had just improved upon her grades because of her understanding of the concept of shapes. She was very happy about that, as grades and learning matter to her. She wants to do her best, but sometimes is unable to do so in certain situations and at particular times. Assessing her outside of the classroom, without the stress of having to complete a test, allowed her to show what she really knows. Perhaps she also needed more time to process the information she had been learning in Math class. Maybe she had a difficult morning at home, prior to coming to school that day, which affected her ability to showcase her mastery of the concepts covered. Because I subscribe to the concept of re-dos, this student was able to find success when and where she needed it. What might happen if this student is not allowed to re-do tests or showcase her learning in alternative ways? Would it affect her self-esteem? Would it impact how she views school? Would this “failure” affect her life outside of school? Although I don’t like to live in what-ifs and fairy tales, I do believe that, if, this student is not allowed to re-do her work when she has a difficult day or needs more time to process a skill or concept, it will greatly affect how she sees herself and school. If we want all of our students to grow into the best possible versions of themselves, then we must be flexible in how and when we assess and reassess students. The re-do process must be an option for all students.