Thursday, September 18, 2014

Retakes - The Redux

Last week, Rachel posted her thoughts on retakes for assignments/quizzes/exams. Her post got some great responses and questions, and, since I differ slightly on how I do retakes (and as a part II to my Standards Based Grading post), we thought it would be best to post an alternative view.

I largely base how I do retakes on the fact that I want my classroom to be a "No Failure Classroom" and I constantly tell my students, "it doesn't matter to me when you get it, or how many times it takes you to get it, it matters to me that you get it." No failure means to me that there is no failure on any level. There is some extent to which my students have to take control of their own learning, but I find that the more opportunities I offer, and the better relationship I have with my students, the more willing they are to take that control. Retakes are a huge part of this in my classroom.

Just like Rachel, I have some rules (if you will) for retakes:

  1. Retakes can be submitted at any time within a large unit and on case by case when the unit ends. 
    1. E.G. - I am giving smaller, more frequent tests this year and each larger unit has between 2 and 4 tests. Students can make up those tests any time, no questions asked, while we are still in that unit. 
    2. I.E. - After the unit ends, I generally will look at students grades to see why they are asking for a retake. For example, I have a student who has generally struggled, but has come to tutoring regularly and has made improvements in class. (S)he and I have worked together to come up with a plan to help him/her get caught up and show proficiency. 
  2. In order to retake summative assessments, students must attend a tutoring session prior to the retake. Students who fail a summative assessment must attend tutoring, no matter what. 
  3. Students may turn in their old test to get a new one based on the questions they missed, or they may retake the entire test. 
    1. I give the same assessment. The information that I want them to know hasn't changed, so the assessment doesn't change. If they turn in their old test, I only ask them to retake the questions they missed. If they do not, they retake the entire test. 
  4. If 80% of the class does not make an 80% or higher, the entire class retakes the test. Those who make a B or better have the option, it is required for all others. 
    1. Nota Bene - I never re-assess a class without some sort of review. Usually I take the first ten minutes of class the next 2-3 days to review and then re-test the third day.
Here are my observations: 
  • Just like Rachel, students relax. I've taken the pressure off of having to be 100% perfect all the time. Just like I have off days, so do they. Sometimes it takes kids a little while longer to get it, and that's okay. 
  • Some students take advantage of the system. When that happens, I reserve the right to take away their retest opportunities until they earn my trust back. What I find happens most of the time, however, is that a student will be honest with me prior to the test and say, "I didn't study" or (and this is more often the case), "I had an AP test today and had to choose which one to study for". 
  • I can quickly and easily see who needs more instruction and who is taking instruction seriously. Students who come to tutoring, take it seriously, and use the retake system have benefited. 
  • With the conjunction of this and the untextbooking I'm doing this year (posts to come), students who, in the past, have said things like, "Latin is hard", and "I don't get it" are now coming to me with things like, "this was awesome", "wow, I can actually read this!", "look at how much I wrote". 
Now, I'd like to respond to some of the concerns you raised in comments or questions you had:
  1. What sorts of things are students allowed to retake/submit? I allow any and every assignment and exam (except finals) to be resubmitted. To make it easier on myself, this year, I am taking assignment resubmissions in class. (You can read about this here). 
  2. How many times can a student retake or resubmit? As many times as they need. I am probably more likely to allow a student to retake/resubmit after we finish a unit if they show consistent work. A student who comes in to tutoring, asks questions, and actively seeks the opportunity is more likely to get sympathy after a deadline than a student who does not. I always try to listen to the student and hear them out, but I am quick to shut it down if I see them taking advantage in a bad way. 
  3. Why not re-write the assessment to prevent cheating? If I need to, I will. But, 99.9% of the time, the information and requirements I have haven't changed, so I do not change the exam. I am not giving multiple choice exams, so it is hard for students to memorise a list of letters and retest in 5 minutes. With the added requirement of tutoring, it also helps ensure they are learning and not memorising. 
  4. What is the cutoff grade for retakes? My students ask this every year. I do not have a cutoff. Some teachers only let students who make a failing grade retake. While I can see the reason they do this, I have had students come to me in tears because they lost privileges at home because a B or a low A isn't good enough. While for me, an 80% is good enough, I know that isn't always the case, for parents or students. I want students to be able to go home and say they did their best, even if it took 5 tries. If student A makes a 70 the first time and is just as upset with his work as Student B who made an 88, I think they both deserve the opportunity. 
  5. Why the deadline? Since I am giving smaller, more frequent tests, students have multiple opportunities to prove their proficiency. Similarly, all my tests are cumulative and include material from previous tests. If a student does poorly, but progresses and starts making consistent grades, I have no problem breaking my deadline and re-assessing or changing the grade to reflect proficiency. The deadline is to help keep my and my children's sanity and also to make sure grades are in on time as required. 
  6. How much credit can a child earn on a retake/resubmission? I give full credit where full credit is due. If I mean what I say when I say that I am grading based on standards and not on a set of assignments and that I truly only care about my students learning, then I cannot justify taking off credit when they get it perfect, even if it is after 1 or more attempts. 
I personally think re-testing is a key part to a successful classroom. I'd like to finish with a story. 

A student who has been struggling made a deal with me this past unit. (s)he and I agreed that, since the tests are cumulative, if (s)he came to tutoring every day for a week, and then retook our most recent test, if (s)he made a 90% (A) or better, I'd go back and change the previous grades to reflect this. The student came in every day and sat with various tutors, asked questions of both them and me, and retook the test. (S)he not only answered all the questions, where before many were left blank, but answered the bonus "What were you prepared to tell me that I did not ask" with detail, proving that he/she not only knew the words, but the story itself. All in all, the student made the A and the grade jumped. I've never seen such a grin, nor have I been prouder. Now, of course, I expect this level of work and if this student were to get into a bind again, I'd expect daily tutoring. But, if the student proves that (s)he knows the material, why shouldn't their grade reflect it?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reconsidering Retakes

As a once over-achieving (okay, currently too. I need A's to live, okay?) student, my first instinct when I heard of teachers instituting a test-retake policy was to exclaim "But that's not fair!" because I remember my teenage self way too clearly and I'd have been appalled that someone else would get a second chance after I'd studied and "earned" my A.

Some of you are just as appalled when you think of retakes.

And you have good reason. I have seen retake policies grossly abused and mishandled. If a teacher allows students to retake anything they like AND the retake is not just over the same material, but is the exact same exam, students just fail the test and retake it after they've seen the questions. I worked at a school where retakes were school policy, not teacher policy, and teachers were not willing to do more than hand the same exam out. If you are forced to do something you don't agree with, if it is going to create more work for you, then you are likely to do the minimum to make your superiors happy.

However, I believe I am making retakes work in my classroom.

Before I go into how I offer retakes in my class, though, I want to go into why. Latin, like any language, like other subjects such as math, is a cumulative class. I am currently, with my Latin I's, laying a foundation. If there are gaps in the foundation, most likely the entire structure will crumble when I try to build it higher. So I really need my students to understand everything. Every piece of Latin that we do needs to be comprehended by my students before I can move on to the next. If I just keep pushing students forward with no incentive to revisit material they didn't master before, they will eventually topple over, and I will lose students to the murky "Latin is hard" realm. I need them to learn the material if they miss it the first time around.

So, I offer retakes. With many provisos.

  1. Students must ask for a retake within one school day from the day they receive their graded assessment.
  2. Students must attend a tutoring session during which we review the material covered and their assessment to find out what was understood and misunderstood and make sure students understand what the assessment is asking.
  3. I then write a new assessment over the same material, with new questions and some previous questions (so they can't count on them not being on the retake). This is the assessment students take to replace their previous grade. They are never allowed to take the same test or quiz twice.
What I see in my classes as a result:
  1. Mostly relaxation. Students are not stressed about quizzes or tests because they trust that they will be able to get the best grade they can.
  2. Instead of students "cheating the system" by just failing whenever they like and then retaking, most students are still earning 90s and above on my assessments. I've assigned, graded, and returned three assessments, and only five students out of 190 (I have large classes this year) have bothered with a retake so far.
  3. I get to work closely with struggling students without having to chase them down myself. I help them work on study habits, correct their misconceptions about the language, and generally get to know them.
I see retakes as more emphasis on mastery, which is what I look for in my classes. Miriam, in her previous blog post, talks about using Standards Based Grading (or as close to that as we can get with our required traditional grade books) and a retest policy for the same purpose. Mastery requires a good foundation, and retakes help me achieve one.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Standards Based Grading (SBG) - Making it Work in a Traditional Gradebook

I think every teacher starts a new year with goals, for both him/herself and his/her students. I am no exception. My biggest goal this year was to find ways I could show real student progress and ensure that 100% of my kids do, in fact, progress.

In setting my goals, I already knew that there were some things I was going to do this year, for a fact:

  • I untextbooked fully this year with all IV levels (more posts to come)
  • I fully switched to culture instruction through research using the National Latin Exam syllabi
  • I fully switched to only using direct grammar instruction in my upper levels (more posts to come)
  • I reconsidered my retake policies and tutoring practices (more below)
  • I re-read my own post on the No Failure Classroom and considered how to make my practices more fully integrated in this idea. 
I also knew, between my own research and discussions with my students, that diving into Standards Based Grading was something we all wanted. I don't want to spend this post talking about the theory, but rather how I am making it work, so allow me to give you some links to the research for your own perusal. This link takes you to my own Google Drive folder with information on Standards Based Grading. There is a PowerPoint with information and a page long list of articles, research, videos, etc. 

So, how am I doing it?

In Thought

I needed to lay out exactly why I wanted to do this and what the benefits would be. So, I spoke to my kids, we brainstormed, and then I applied the research. I kept what worked and reconsidered what didn't. 
  1. Grades, if we are to use them, should be a measure of a student's progress with standards or goals, not their ability to complete an assignment or get something right on a first try. 
    1. How does this apply to the number of grades I put in a grade book?
    2. How does this apply to testing and test retakes?
    3. How does this apply to absences and deadlines?
  2. If students are to show real progress, they must be able to make that progress when they are ready, no matter when it happens through the year. 
    1. Just because it is on my schedule, does that mean a student must succeed at that exact moment?
    2. How do we ensure progress and not a memorisation of isolated facts, words, and ideas?
    3. How do we motivate students to work towards progress and not panic when something requires extra help or instruction?
    4. What happens when one, two, or three people need extra help and time vs. when an entire class needs extra help and time?
  3. How do we address student, parent, and school needs and requirements while making a grade book work with standards?
    1. Do we use graded numbers?
    2. Do we change the weight of grades to fit needs?
    3. Do we put standards in and leave them blank until the time comes?
    4. How can we communicate regularly while meeting these goals?

In Practice

So, keeping these concerns and ideas in mind, off I went. I spent a good deal of my summer thinking about this, discussing it with teachers, and just when I had an idea of what to do, grading schemes were released for our school and I had to rethink it all. So, here's the final shell of my grading this year. 

Grade Book Setup

  • I still put in grades based on assignment 
    • One of my biggest concerns is what happens to grade books through the year. We collect and grade and collect and grade and, by the end, the final is worth very little and students who missed part of the year, came late, got sick, etc. have little to no chance of doing well, even if they do REALLY well. 
    • One of the ideas behind SBG is that you have a set number of standards/assignments and students are constantly working to improve their grades based on their actual progress in the class. The students and I really liked this idea. It places the importance on the progress, not the grade, as it were. 
    • So, I have separated our untextbooked curriculum into larger units. I put in each test separately (and we agreed as a group on smaller, more frequent tests), but I only collect one of each assignment that I want to. This gives a variety, but doesn't overwhelm the grade book. While we are in that unit, when we do a second assignment like one that has been graded, students may resubmit for a new grade, provided they've shown progress. 
      • E.G. Jenny was absent when we completed a dictation, so she got an IP (in progress) in the grade book. When we did a second dictation, she submitted it for a grade. 
      • E.G. Michael got a 70% on the story's comic strip. In our second story, we didn't do a comic strip, but we did answer questions based on comprehension. Michael asks his teacher to grade this new assignment in place of the previous one. 
    • This limits my grading and limits their grades, making it more about progress and less about numbers. 
  • I still put in number grades, but they are based on proficiency, NOT accuracy.
    • I despise how sometimes our system allows people to memorise and resubmit. They've not learned anything knew, cannot use anything in a new way, but they have the right answers. 
    • I also hate how an accuracy system sets students up for failure. Students who make minor mistakes are penalised, even if they fully understand how to use vocabulary and language. 
    • So, I make sure to make my expectations clear with students and assignments, and I give credit where credit is due. 
      • E.G. Sally, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother asks". She gets full credit for understanding the context of the story/word, even if tense is wrong, she didn't give a subject, etc. 
      • E.G. Mary, a Latin II student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother was asking". She gets full credit for understanding the context, and also for identifying it was past test, even if it is not fully correct. 
      • E.G. Bobby, a Latin III student, answered test question "rogavit" with "asks". He gets partial credit for understanding the context, but as an upper level student, it was expected that he also give subject and tense.  
    • This puts the emphasis on being proficient in the language without making it all about accuracy. Since I am not giving any multiple choice tests this year (unless I have to), I have more freedom in giving credit where it is due, as opposed to simply marking it correct for accuracy. 
  • I allow students to resubmit/retake any and every assignment as many times as they want. 
    • Getting it right is important to me, not WHEN they get it right. 
    • So, retakes are done as follows
      • can be redone any time within a larger unit (if not, on a case by case basis). 
      • cannot be redone before student attends a tutoring session
        • This ensures they hear the information again, from a different source, in a different way, and also get to hash out any issues one on one (with me or a tutor)
      • full credit is given where due. 
        • E.G. Karen, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the father sees"initially, but answered "the mother asks" on a retake. -- 100% credit given
        • E.G. James, a Latin III student answered test question "rogavit" with asks initially, but answered "he asked" on a retake -- 100% credit give
      • Resubmissions are done in class.
        • Since I'm not putting in 1,000 grades, I simply replace the old grade with a new one, provided progress is shown. 
      • I require all students who fail an assessment to come to tutoring and students all know that I expect them all to have an 80% or better in my class. Anything lower comes with tutoring, parent contact, and conferences. 

In Actuality

So, what have the reactions been? In general, I have much more relaxed students who are performing better and take more control over their own grades. I have not been asked once this year for extra credit, or how someone can "bring their grade" up. Students are clear on expectations and they know what happens when they don't meet those expectations. I provide 100% risk proof fail safes and students have the materials and tools they need to succeed. The grade book is clear and instead of getting parent emails asking about what an assignment is or a test or what was missed, I now have only gotten emails acknowledging grade changes or making sure a student is keeping up his/her end of the bargain. 

I discussed this with my parents at curriculum night and got lots of positive feedback. When it comes down to it, I am not interested in tricking my students, only in seeing them succeed. I am convinced a Standards Based Grade Book (or as much of one I can have) is part of a grander plan to do this. 

Have any of you tried SBG or looked into it? How is it going?