OK – who has been in this situation? You are handing out an test or quiz to your students that you’ve had announced for the past two weeks. All you’ve said so far is, “take out something to write with,” and before the test has even hit the desk, a student asks, “Will there be a retake?” or “What happens if we fail this?” and you deflate. I mean, they haven’t even taken the test yet – and the first thing on their minds is if they can retake it, or are already convinced they’ll fail. This is often an Ally McBeal moment for me when you envision slamming your head on the nearest desk, but you come to … and continue passing out the tests, gently responding by saying ‘Yes, but let’s worry about that after you take this one.’ What was really the reason for wanting a retake? Why such concern? Was it because they REALLY wanted to take another test? (ha!) Or where they worried more about the grade? Turns out – not one really wanted to take another test – so it was all about the grade. Not the learning. In my mind – this was completely backwards, and I wanted to change this mindset.
Before I get to that, during a unit, I tend to handle most formative assessments as just that…formative – building towards understanding a main objective, and are rarely graded. This includes vodcast work, WSQs, and small class activities. We use these to help create the foundation for when we apply concepts in our lab work, so they can be done at any time – however, it benefits them to be sure they complete the vodcasts when we disco them so that they can get their questions answered. Labs and lab write-ups are usually graded, however, I often allow for revision of conclusions. Since flipping, I’ve been able to utilize a lot more class time for lab analysis and conclusion writing. Most of the time, students will draft a conclusion, and after we post-lab discuss the lab, I allow them to go back and revise their conclusion since that is the main way they are showing me they understood the concepts. Students can peer-review, and I can give greater feedback through conferencing, and they can ask questions. They are also encouraged to revise responses to discussion questions. I allow my students to use their lab books on the lab practical portion of the exam, so I want them to have a valuable resource. This has also reduced the number of ‘late’ labs, and reduced me chasing after students for work. It’s certainly not a magic bullet, but it has helped!
As for exams – it was after several of these conversations I described above that I decided to change my approach to retakes in my advanced and AP biology courses. Throwing a whole new exam at them would not be beneficial – and in all honesty, why focus again on what they already showed they understand? Why not spend the time focusing on what they don’t know, or had trouble explaining?? So I tried something a little different, we called ‘exam recovery.’ No matter what a student received for a grade, if they wanted to do the exam recovery they could. Here’s how it works:
- Students come in and review the exam on their own time.
- For any missed multiple choice questions, students must explain what the right answer is, WHY it is correct, and why the incorrect answers are incorrect. They must also relate the question to the objective studied in the unit. (they can use ANY resource for this process)
- For any short-response, they must re-explain their response reflecting on what they misunderstood the first time.
- At the end of reviewing each question, the student write a reflection on what they have learned and how they can improve during the unit to be better prepared for the next exam.
In all of the discussions I have had with students – in fact, I had one today – they find this process to be one of the most helpful ways in helping them understand the material better. When they have to go through and actually explain an answer, they feel they learn it. Why are assessments so often in school a ‘one and done’ deal? Don’t we all learn better when we can fix our mistakes? Pretty sure not many of us would know how to ride a bike if all we had was one shot to get it right.
What do you think about retakes?