By Teachers, For Teachers
When students receive grades or scores, they might tell themselves, “I stink at this,” or “I’ll never get it right!” They seem to have the fixed mindset either that they can do something or they can’t – their effort makes no difference.
But I tell my students that if they knew everything and could do all of our course skills perfectly on the first try, they wouldn’t need to be in my class. I tell them that I believe they can do better – and then I give them the chance to try it again via classroom management techniques.
It’s this second chance brought about by classroom management, this opportunity for learning from a previous failure, that makes all the difference for students. Too often our curriculum pigeonholes students into a one-and-done mentality with work, giving them exactly one chance to get it right. If they don’t do as well as they’d like, if they don’t understand the concept, if they don’t master the skill, then it’s “Better luck on the next unit!” No wonder why they have a fixed mindset about themselves!
But if we can give students a guided method for revising their work, then we can train them to become truly better learners. Let’s examine what some successful steps for a revision process might look like.
First, just give students time to digest the quality of their work. This doesn’t have to begin when they receive their graded work back from you. It could begin before they even turn it in.
Ask students to consider the work they put into it, their perception of the quality and the weaknesses, how their product compares to the standard or rubric, and how well they felt like they understood the task. It’s surprising how much students may already know about their own work before a teacher even reviews it! Giving students a few minutes to reflect on these things before they turn in their work is a good step in the reflection process.
But let’s say that you’re giving their work back to them after reviewing it. Students should have at least two feedback tools at their disposal now: the Grade and the written comments by you. Often we are tempted to hand back their work and let students do as they please with it, but intentionally give students time to review their own work and your feedback. They can ask questions, look over their product from a fresh perspective, and attempt to understand what it is that you’re trying to convey in your response.
Students see what they could do better … and then are jettisoned onto the next activity. Too often this is where the process ends … revision is over before it starts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the midst of the reflection process, it’s not enough to assume students are mentally revising their work and prepping to “Do better” on the next task. Aspects of failure, learning, and reflection ought to be specifically addressed.
Ask your students, “Do you think you could do better if you tried again?” Most would agree they could. Ask, “What would you do differently to turn this into a stronger product?” Students would identify their strengths and weaknesses. Ask, “What did you learn about yourself, the process, or this skill based on the feedback you received?”
If we want students to succeed, to continue trying after they’ve failed, to feel like they can grow as learners, then we need to actually facilitate an environment that fosters this mentality. So talk to them directly about their strengths and their failures, and then offer them that “Second chance.”
Some tasks might be small or simple enough to revise independently. However, the revision opportunity offers the perfect reason for teachers to have one-on-one conferences with students who desire to revise. Ask students to set up a short conference with you or another trusted adult tutor to talk about what specific elements of their task they’ll focus on revising.
When you meet, review the student’s work, grade, and feedback together. Do not merely lecture on the “Dos and Don’ts,” but converse with the student over what they struggled with, what they think they need to do to improve, and how comfortable they feel doing that. Develop an action plan together. Have the student write down their notes and ideas from your conversation.
It’s more common for teachers to talk to a group of students at a time rather than one-on-one. But those one-on-one conversations can make all the difference. Sometimes I would make a personal conference a requirement, sometimes not; but I always strongly encourage students to have a conversation with a trusted adult regarding their work.
After students reflect and confer with an adult, they’re ready to take another crack at the task. Usually I establish a firm deadline for students to submit their revisions by (up to a week after our conference, depending on the task). Students should work on their own, utilizing the feedback and reflections they’ve gathered to try to do better with the task.
If possible, I have also had students complete their revisions right next to me, getting feedback or information as they progress step-by-step through the process.
Ultimately, students will turn in a revised version of their work along with the original copy. Then I re-grade their work like I’ve never seen it before, providing a new grade and new feedback based on their performance. Then, I erase their old grade and put in the new.
I do inform students that their revision process does not guarantee that they’ll automatically receive a better grade. The process typically helps them score better, but there’s no guarantee that more effort leads to a superior result.
When students have taken the time to authentically reflect on, conference about, and revise their work, I let them know how awesome their willingness to do that is. Even if their new grade isn’t the “Dream score” they were hoping to receive, the fact that they took extra time to learn more and prove they could do better will make them a much stronger person in the future.
I try to intentionally not praise the outcome. Of course, if students get a great score on their revision, I let them know how proud I am. But the emphasis of my praise always goes towards the process. “I love the way you took advantage of the feedback I gave you” and “I can’t believe how much effort you put into this revision” are phrases that hopefully encourage a continued dedication to growth.
I don’t want students to think that their innate intelligence or final grade is what’s important. What’s really important is their willingness to learn from their mistakes and to turn their weaknesses into strengths. And I try to encourage this with both the process I facilitate and the words I speak.
When teachers hear others talk about the revision process, they sometimes misunderstand what the process does and how it is orchestrated. Here are a few mischaracterizations of the revision process:
These are mischaracterizations of the revision process because they don’t quite take into account the intentionality or benefits possible in it. Not every task needs to have a revision opportunity attached to it. Teachers can set firm expectations for what a revised version looks like. If students take extra time to learn, then we can certainly take extra time to facilitate that learning. The real world offers plenty of second chances … and even if it didn’t, school is the place to learn how to get it right before that “One chance” in the real world arises.
Truth be told, there’s no perfect system for revisions. Our goal as educators is not to settle for telling our students “Better luck next time,” but to help coach them into the learners and masters we know they can be. Facilitating revisions is not about raising grades or creating extra work, it’s about teaching students to believe in themselves and their ability to grow.
What are some successful steps you’ve built into the revision process to help your students? Tell our TeachHUB.com community about your ideas in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.