If At First They Don’t Succeed, Make Them Try Again

Since it’s summer and I know we teachers love to think about big picture changes to our classrooms…. here’s one of my “things”. I give quizzes a lot. A lot, a lot. They’re pretty low stakes point wise; each quiz is 5 points, no matter how many questions, which usually works out to around 2-4% of the total points (but with all the quizzes added together you’re looking at maybe 20%). And my quizzes tend to be lower level skills: definitions, identifying parts on a diagram, putting events in order, etc. But pretty much anytime we add a new part to the unit we are working on, I give a quiz within a day or two of the intro. 

We grade the quizzes immediately in class. I have my students use their ID numbers (which they all have memorized) instead of their names and they can’t grade their own, I pass them out randomly. I also pass out markers when we grade quizzes and that is the only thing they are allowed to touch a quiz with.

**Sidenote** In the last school I worked at, the students did not have ID numbers. I would put a post-it note on each desk with a random number. As they were taking the quiz, I would walk around the room with a roster and write their number next to their name so I knew who was which number… A bit more time consuming, but it worked for me! 

Here’s the catch: If the student doesn’t score 100% they have to retake it the next day. I call them second chances. And the second score is the one that goes in the grade book, for better or for worse! Dun Dun Duuuunnnnnn. “Why can’t I just take today’s grade?” “I’m fine with a C!” There is a LOT of whining, and even some downright angry students at the start of each semester as we start this process. But here’s what I tell them. “YOU CAN DO BETTER.” And more importantly, they HAVE TO do better. These quizzes are pretty straight forward without a whole lot of application. So if we are going to move on to activities (and of course that summative assessment) where students will have to be able to use their knowledge, that basic understanding has to be there.

Just Keep Trying

So yes, I give a second chance. Because here’s the thing: students rarely get it all right on the first try. AND THAT’S OK. As we grade the quiz together as a class, we talk about their misconceptions and why the answer they picked is not correct. They have the chance to clarify something they thought they understood that they actually didn’t. And they have another chance to show me (and themselves) that they are ready to move on. There have been times where the second quiz scores were horrible too. In that case, I had students write on the back of their quiz why they didn’t do well. “Are you genuinely confused, or are you just not studying?” While I am willing to let them try again and hit pause until they get it, the students also have to take responsibility for their learning. I find that students are pretty honest with their responses and I can plan accordingly. 

Another thing students will ask is if I will take their first score if they do worse on the second one. And I hold tight to my “for better or worse” motto. I want students to master ALL of the material, not just 80% of it. There is no reason they should do worse the second time. We have gone through the material together in class (though I do switch up the second quiz, maybe reword questions or change the order). They have had lots of chances to ask for help. Now it’s up to them. I have had parents contact me concerned that their child shouldn’t be held accountable to the lower grade when they’ve already shown me they know more than that. I tell parents that I am willing to give their child as many chances as they need, but after the second it is up to the student to ask for more. And it also helps that I keep track of both scores, so in most cases I can show them that their student actually is improving and they have nothing to worry about. 

I’ve also heard the argument that if students are given a second chance (and in my case- required), they will always blow off the first one. My response is that I don’t really care. Students figure out pretty quickly that if they just study the first time, there is zero danger of their score dropping. Those students who really want an A in the grade book earn it. I always email the parents of students who get 100% on the first round, and that encourages students to repeat that behavior as well. But if a student decides not to study the first time (which many do), is that really any different from students who will blow off a quiz without a second chance? They’re probably the same students. And then I end up doing more work to try to drag that kid through the next set of lessons because they never mastered the basics. So if going through the quiz as a class and helping them focus on exactly what to study, or at least hearing it, helps them do better on the second chance, I’m OK with that. They are still learning the material. 

At the start, students hate this process. But by the end, most of them really appreciate it. They want that chance to master the material. It makes the activities easier for them moving forward. It makes the class less stressful. These are all things that students have written to me in my end of class surveys. And those responses are why I keep this policy in place! 

My next step is to have students track their progress for themselves so that I only have to track their score that goes in the grade book. Anyone have experience with that and want to give us some pointers? I’d love to hear what you think of this process and what you use in your classroom- leave it in the comments! 

Thanks for stopping by! =) 

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