Why I Do Re-Dos

When my students get a low grade on a written assignment, I allow them to revise it and resubmit it for a higher grade an unlimited amount of times before final grades are due. Why? Because I love giving up even more of my scarce free time. Well, not really.

I already regularly work 14hr days and work on weekends. I also have other things I need and want to do with my free time so the prospect of filling it with more grading is dispiriting. However, I care more about my students’ learning outcomes than I do about most things in my life so I deal with the extra work this entails.

The problem I am trying to address is in the way most teachers do assessment. I’ve written about this before so I won’t rehash that whole post. Essentially, an assessment is just supposed to show whether a student has met the learning objectives or not, and teachers later have to assign grades based on how well that student demonstrated that she met the learning objectives. However, most assessments cannot be designed in such a way at to adequately capture a student’s understanding of a subject. Standardized testing is a good example of this. In the end, it mostly tests how well students can take tests.

Too often, assessments are viewed as ends rather than means. Even when grading is concerned, teachers place a lot of value on the assessments themselves as opposed to students’ actual achievements. This is exemplified by the way my students take midterms and finals. Sit down and answer some multiple choice questions: no rescheduling, no do-overs, no exceptions. If a student happens to be sick that day, her GPA is permanently affected.

Or perhaps there is a particular concept that a student has not quite mastered by the date of the assessment. Even if that student has a eureka moment the next day and comes to understand it, it is too late. Whether she has an actual understanding or not becomes irrelevant to the grade.

A good assessment should be designed towards measuring the students actual abilities in reliable ways, but there are always circumstances where even the best assessments fall short. This is why I have implemented my unlimited re-do policy.

If a student does poorly on a written assignment, she can use my feedback to fix the gaps in her knowledge. Then, she can try to demonstrate her understanding to me again. Instead of just assigning a grade and moving on, I give my students room to improve. In practice, this means a lot of extra work for me and genuine improvement in my students. I can individualize my instruction much better because I can see the mistakes students repeat and the things they fail to learn. Instead of treating assessments as an end, they are a way to help me help my students learn. Many of the concerns I have heard about doing it like this have been easy to avoid.

Some students said they thought everyone would just get 100% under my system (which is a problem because we do relative grading here) but that has never been the case. While many students tell me they will revise their work, in the end only some do. The “unlimited” idea is also only unlimited in one sense: I will not put a restriction on the amount of times students can resubmit work. However, they have an absolute deadline near the end of the semester because grades are due.

This also makes part of my job easier, oddly enough. My students are extremely competitive because of how the school system is set up here (particularly with relative grading) and some of them have a strong feeling of entitlement. Instead of complaining to me about marks, they have a clear path to improve their own grades and I give specific feedback at every step. I also don’t have to hear excuses about late work, because there is no punishment for it. Due dates are still important because I grade in chunks. Late work gets graded last in each chunk, so students have to wait longer for feedback and have less time to do the re-dos.

By allowing students to resubmit work for a higher grade, they have more room to learn at their own pace and more chances to demonstrate what they actually can do, not just what they can do on one day and in one way.

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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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