Redos: an essential part of the learning process - Room 213

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Redos: an essential part of the learning process

Years ago, I would have shuddered at the thought of asking my students to redo an assignment, envisioning myself chained to my desk for hours, buried under paper. However, several things made me change my mind about this:

1. I was giving feedback and then moving on without giving students a chance to use it, hoping that they would remember what I told them the next time we did something similar-- which could happen weeks later. Only my most conscientious students would look back at the old rubric, while the rest just kept making the same mistakes. Most performance based activities are built around a feedback-practice model. The track athlete, the basketball player and the swimmer get feedback from their coach and then get to try their skills again before the big game. The singer and actor do the same. But my students often got feedback and the grade at the same time. Even when I'd given them lots of help as they worked on an assignment, the best feedback came just as we were ready to move on to something new. That just didn't feel right anymore.

2. At the beginning of every semester, I preached the importance of embracing failure. But I was just giving lip service to its importance in the learning process. I realized that if I was telling my students it's ok to make mistakes as long as they learn from them, then I should give them a chance to do just that.

I knew something needed to change, but I am also a realist who really does not enjoy the time I spend grading assignments. How could I allow redos without chaining myself to my desk?

In my regular academic classes, I started using writer's and reader's workshop, which is built around the feedback-revision model. However, I didn't have that luxury with my International Baccalaureate classes because of the standardized nature of the program. I needed to find another way to work on the feedback-revision cycle with them.

After a few semesters of trial and error, I've come up with a system that has lead to great improvements in my students' writing. Now, the students redo many of their assignments. It's mandatory for all of them, not just the ones who did not attain a certain mark. This is because I want all of them to work to improve their skills. This does two things: it leads to better writing, and it puts the focus on the learning process, rather than just the grade. 

The best part is that I've managed to do this without increasing my grading load. Read on to see how:

1. I started to give smaller assignments that targeted specific skills. For example, I wanted them to write focused analysis that started with an assertion, and was followed by effective textual evidence and commentary. I did not worry about their own word choice or mechanics, because I wanted them to focus on the process of analysis. They passed in a paragraph, and I gave them feedback using a checklist, and underlined or highlighted problem areas on their paragraph. Each paragraph was redone and passed in for a summative mark.

2. I planned my assessments so that the smaller assignments lead into the bigger assessments I wanted to do. They did many quick-writes to practice the assertion-evidence-commentary pattern I wanted them to follow. They passed in journals and paragraphs that included literary analysis. I gave them feedback using the same checklists and rubrics I would use for the essay we were building toward.  When it was time to write the essay, they were very familiar with my expectations and had had several opportunities to practice and improve those skills.

3. After giving feedback on longer assignments, I knew I couldn't manage the time to have them redo the whole thing. Instead, I asked them to choose an area on the rubric that was their weakest and use the feedback to improve that. So, one student might choose to work on their organization, while another is working on idea development or word choice. When they redid the assignment, they highlighted their changes (we do this with Google Docs, but they could do the same on a paper assignment as well). Students were also required to include a comment that explained what they revised and why. I collect the original rubrics, locate the changes, and decide whether or not they have improved their work. It takes very little time (comparatively) because I only have to read what they have changed.

4. Many times, I follow this process in a conference. Students complete the same process and they explain their changes to me in person. The conference is far more effective process, as I can provide even more feedback to the student, who can respond and revise on the spot, if necessary.

5. I have also made reflection and revision a daily event in my classroom. I build in time for revision, so students get into the habit of thinking about the skills they need to work on. With every quick-write or prompt, I ask them to look for places where they can add more detail or improve their word choice. This goes a long way in helping them to become reflective students, as they get into the habit of improving their work. You can find more strategies for daily reflection and revision here.

I'm still tweaking, but I can honestly say that my students are now regularly using my feedback to improve their work, and I feel like the grading process is far less painful. That's because the focused feedback I give on the smaller assignments is leading to better written essays. Reading them is now far less painful because the students are actually learning, rather than just getting a grade and moving on.

If you have questions or concerns about this process, please leave them in the comments!

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