Always Redo

Last year I wrote a blog post praising the re-test.  I recently shared it with a colleague, and he scoffed at it.  He said, that’s not how the real world works.

I’d argue it is.

I’d also argue that learning “works” that way.  People learn through practice.

In “the real world” someone learns to build well by fixing his/her previous attempts.  S/he learns to cook well by tasting and modifying seasoning. Musicians learn by practicing constantly.  Athletes train until their training is etched into their procedural (muscle) memory.  Photographers take thousands of photos to perfectly capture and instant.

Re-doing is how we learn.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Education has spelled out their philosophy on assessment and how it should be used in learning.  

The use of assessment to improve student learning and to help students become independent learners requires teachers and students to acknowledge and enact a fundamental shift in how they perceive their roles in the learning process. In a traditional assessment paradigm, the teacher is perceived as the active agent in the process, determining goals and criteria for successful achievement, delivering instruction, and evaluating student achievement at the end of a period of learning. The use of assessment for the purpose of improving learning and helping students become independent learners requires a culture in which student and teacher learn together in a collaborative relationship, each playing an active role in setting learning goals, developing success criteria, giving and receiving feedback, monitoring progress, and adjusting learning strategies. The teacher acts as a “lead learner”, providing support while gradually releasing more and more responsibility to the student, as the student develops the knowledge and skills needed to become an independent learner.” (Growing Success pg. 30)

According to this Ministry Document (the current assessment bible in Ontario) assessment is not a one-time affair.  Assessment should drive learning.  It should be a constant conversation that pushes students along in their understanding of concepts and their mastery of skills.

How can that happen if teachers never revisit ideas and allow students a chance to show how they have grown, progressed, learned?  If teachers cringe at the idea of re-testing, then they need to make time for students to redo other parts of their learning.  Students need many chances to edit and tweak in all subject areas.

Here’s an example.

This past week my grade five class has been working through a science challenge. Basically, we’re trying to keep ice from melting by building thermoses out of a few items.  Each pair of students gets a small newspaper (a copy of Metro), 8 cotton balls, one piece of tinfoil (roughly 8.5 X 11), one plastic cup and lid, one piece of felt (roughly 8.5 X 11), unlimited tape.  We did some learning on insulation then the students built.  


Then we tested:



Then we learned some more about insulation and made a few notes:


Then students were given a second set of materials.  They could either a) start from scratch or b) modify their existing container.  Essentially they had just doubled their materials if they chose to use all of the pieces. 


While students were rebuilding, I was walking around and talking with them “giving (and receiving) feedback, monitoring progress, and adjusting learning.” This was not a complex process.  It was largely conversational.  We talked about their learning.  I made some notes on what students remembered as they redesigned.  I also talked to them about ideas that they perhaps didn’t absorb from our lesson.

At the end of the rebuilding session one of the students (Denise, whose container is pictured above) looked at me and said “Mr. Stepan, that’s science art”.  I giggled and asked her what she meant.  Her words: “the ideas are beautiful”.

Beautiful ideas…. hmm.  I wonder, without redoing are we ever getting to beautiful ideas?


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