I wanted to write a post to focus on an article I came across this week discussing the topic of rewrites. I know that it’s off topic for our class discussions, but I found it to be so thought provoking and it has challenged the way I will think about rewrites moving forward.
First let me tell you about my past experiences and protocol with rewrites. The school I teach at is a private school and is driven highly by academics. Students do not get to choose electives (except one choice between Calculus 30 and a PAA course in grade 12). The students take all the Foundations and Calculus streams of math, almost all of the 20 & 30 level science streams, history/social studies, and english. All of their “electives” are chosen by the teachers we have at our school and our backgrounds, the availability of space and resources as well as religious/cultural restrictions. For example, students cannot take food studies, carpentry, or auto mechanics. Many of our students aspire to be Doctors, Lawyers or Engineers. A lot of students have cultural pressure as well as pressure from their parents to fill these roles so academics is VERY important. Because of this, we have tended to stick to more traditional forms of assessment and expectations.
This next bit of information may make you all cringe and shake your heads but I’ll share it anyways. At our school we give zeros. We also take off 10% per day that an assignment is late. And we don’t give rewrites. I shouldn’t say that we NEVER give rewrites, but they are very hard to come by and usually come with the marks being split between the rewrite and the previous test score. There are a few reasons we do this. In terms of the zeros given, we don’t want to hand back assignments for students to simply copy from another student to hand in. Once assignments are handed back they are no longer allowed to hand in the assignment. We take off points for things being late so that we aren’t waiting for ever to grade the assignments. And we don’t allow rewrites for a variety of reasons all of which are pretty poor reasons after having read this article. Most of all, we do all of this because we feel like we are better preparing them for the real world. The real world where their employer will request that a presentation or document be ready for a specific date. The real world where you will be asked to finish a project and it needs to be done right the first time, not the second or third time.
After reading the article I realized that in the real world, things aren’t all that black and white. In the real world, for a lot of things, you get second chances. If you fail your drivers test, you can go again and again to get it before having to retake the course and trying again.
“Lawyers who finally pass the bar exam on their second or third attempt are not limited to practicing law only on Tues- days or only under the watchful eye of a seasoned partner for the duration of their careers.”
The reality is that in real life we get to practice, review and learn from our mistakes. We usually don’t get fired for making on mistake at work. We aren’t labelled incompetent because we didn’t complete our task as efficiently as our boss may have hoped. We meet with our superiors and colleagues to discuss our progress and learn from them. We reflect on our experiences and get better as we continue to move forward.
Why should I be able to tell a student that they aren’t good enough because they didn’t get it right the first time? Why can’t we go back and look at what they did wrong to ensure they know what they are doing moving forward? A lot of this boils down to the constraints of time, but it also has a lot to do with student engagement and willingness to learn/make changes. I have had a few students who have had terrible exams scores. And when I say terrible, I mean terrible. After meeting with one student he wanted a re-write. I told him I would give him a re-write if he came to be over two lunch hours to work on the problem areas and submit some extra practice sheets to show me that he is actually making an effort to learn the material. It took him almost a month and several reminders from me to get the worksheets done. Maybe this was too much for him to do. The worksheets were intended to give him the extra practice he needed with factoring. When he actually finished the worksheets and rewrote the new exam I made for him he was able to score somewhere in the 80’s up from the previous score in the teens. I replaced the old score with the new score and I felt a lot better about the whole thing than I had with any other rewrite in the past.
We have to remember that the curriculum doesn’t say that they must learn a specific outcome at a specific time or date. The curriculum simply states that they can do it. If one student is able to master something over a week when another takes 2 months but still is able to master it, shouldn’t they both obtain a grade reflecting mastery? I think that rewrites and going back to reteach definitely creates more work for us as teachers which is why we often just move one. But by moving on we aren’t helping our students and we certainly aren’t helping ourselves or other teachers who will teach our students. The purpose of students going to school is to learn skills. We should be doing whatever it takes for our students to learn these skills. I know it is easier said than done because we are only one person, the curriculum is big, the students needs are different and we only have a certain amount of time with each student. However, if students are struggling there is no reason why we can’t attempt to address the problem.
I think we need to remember that students are learning. They are learning a lot of things all at once. They are learning how to be a student. They are not adults. They are kids (no matter what great we teach). And even if they were adults, adults make mistakes too and need chances to learn from them. Are the number of chances we get unlimited? Not usually, but more often than not we are able to learn from them before the chances run out.
By now I’m sure I have some of you shaking your head in disbelief. I may have some of you who agree with me on my previous assessment practices. Maybe you feel something else after reading this. Whatever your thoughts I would love to hear from you. What do you stand with rewrites? I know that this article has changed the way I think about them. I see a lot more rewrites in my future.