Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Try, Try Again
I operate under the belief that we are all works in progress. Each day I walk into the classroom is a new day for me and my students. Ideally, life is a process of self improvement. Nobody is perfect and that is why we should exercise grace and patience with each other as we go through our own journey of discovery. This is what I believe. Does this belief come through in teaching, though?
If we are to sit down and think about this we might realize that we too often send the wrong message to students, Giving them assignments, projects and tests without the opportunities to improve on them sends a message we do not want or need our young people to learn, especially those who struggle. When they fail an assignment and we don't give them a second opportunity to do better, they receive one or two terrible messages. The first is that they can't do better. They tried. They failed. Now it is time to move on without them. The other message it sends is that the objectives being assessed are not important enough to revisit.
Graduate students work on portfolios and dissertations that go through a lengthy process of drafting and editing. They are not allowed to graduate until their final project is worthy. Why don't we do this with younger students? What can we do to send a different message? How do we communicate that what we are teaching is important and that them understanding the content and skills is crucial?
I have a few suggestions: 1) Allow students to take pretests and retakes. Doing this allows them to see what they do not know and study to do better. 2) Whenever possible, have them revise their writing assignments so they get used to writing drafts to show improvement. 3) Center your lessons around key objectives and allow students opportunities to demonstrate mastery and the ability to track their own growth.