Do-Overs – An Important Learning Opportunity

 I’ve seen educators on social media discussing about grades during a pandemic. They are questioning whether teachers should allow open-book exams, whether students should be allowed a do-over if they were not satisfied with their initial grade on a project or assignment, and whether teachers should extend deadlines during this difficult time in our schools. These are valid questions that deserve to be discussed even if we weren’t in a pandemic. 

I think we need to ask ourselves some questions. How are these assignments helping to prepare students not just for that class, but for life? Do students have only one opportunity to get it “right”? What happens if students did not understand the content or the instructions? How do we help them, or how do we help them to improve? What kind of feedback do we provide and what will students learn if they are allowed to re-do an assignment? What would be the purpose for giving students a do-over? Is this just about a grade, or is it about the learning? I’m sure there are many more questions if we have that discussion.

My opinion about grades changed over time. When I was a student, grades were important to me, and I learned to play the game so I could receive decent grades. As a teacher, I realized that students rarely saw beyond the grade they received when their assignments or tests were returned to them. I saw that feedback from their peers or from their teacher was more valuable than a grade. The best evidence of students’ learning was when they were able to re-do an assignment and improve on their first opportunity, taking the feedback into consideration. It was gratifying to see the students’ pride; they knew that their effort at producing quality work was what they were striving for. 

As a principal, one of my assignments was conducting formal teacher observations. Although it was time-consuming to go through the entire process, these observations allowed me to have important conversations with our teachers. Sometimes, those who were going through this process for the first time struggled, and I knew from my informal classroom visits that they were much better teachers than what they showed me during that formal observation.  After our post-observation conference where the questions were designed for self-reflection, it was evident that the teacher had not fully understood the process. I offered these teachers an opportunity for a do-over. This one was their practice; the next one would count towards their evaluation. Every single teacher who was afforded this opportunity did much better the second time around, and they were grateful to have had a do-over. 

Sometimes we get so obsessed with grading students that we forget our purpose as educators. We are there to help students learn, to find what they’re passionate about, to build on knowledge they already have, to make a difference in their lives, and to help them build the skills they will need to become contributing members of their community. It is about students discovering themselves, about what works for them as they navigate this place called school. It is preparing them to be self-sufficient, self-directed adults who know how to ask for help if they don’t understand what is being asked of them. 

I realize that do-overs were an important part of my growing and developing, not just as an educator, but as a person with different interests and experiences. Anything we want to do well takes practice and feedback so we can improve. In life, the more we practice, the more confident we feel and hopefully, the better we will be. The same goes for our students; if we want them to learn from their mistakes and to become self-directed learners and quality producers, perhaps we should be giving them opportunities to show their improvement. I think do-overs in school are an important component of learning and builds resiliency in students to be the best they can be.