Saturday, January 30, 2016

On Re-Takes and Second Chances

There has been a slow shift in thinking around the schoolhouse lately.  Emphasis on the word slow.  Or at least this is what I had thought.  At least in my own building, which is a 6-8 middle school building, where we are working on a number of things, including making sure that people understand the middle school philosophy and the central tenets that should be found in every middle school building; grading and reporting practices that are fair and meaningful to every student; and how we can incorporate student voice into the school day.

What I want to focus on here is the belief by many that learning will occur for all, and that we will do whatever it takes to ensure this supreme goal.

Except when time gets in the way and learning has to, for some reason, end.

This week, I sat in a room with some exceptional educators from around the district's 3 middle schools.  The topic was allowing students to re-take assignments and even assessments in order to ensure mastery. Some of the dissenting viewpoints focused on why it wasn't working, the opinion that students were not learning but instead, just trying to earn a better grade (emphasis on the letter grade and not the learning itself), and the worry that we really aren't teaching "quality life lessons" by offering second chances.

Okay, just to clarify a few things.  This is our first year dabbling with a mandatory re-take policy across all middle schools.  This is also our first year attempting to establish some consistent language and understandings across departments and grade levels.  These are good things.  Good things for both students and the teachers who instruct them.

But these aren't first year teachers.  These are educators who, for the most part, have many, many years of experience across the collective whole.

Why, then, are we wondering if offering 2nd chances is really teaching kids "quality life lessons?"  Why, when someone mentions that offering re-takes is really not encouraging mastery of learning, isn't someone speaking up and screaming, as loud as they can, "AND WHOSE FAULT IS THIS?"

Because I have a feeling I know the answer to this one.  I have a strong suspicion that the answer here, would be the ever-familiar, "Well, it's the student's fault, of course; it's the student's fault they didn't learn it the first time... they've learned how to work the system, and understand that this is a matter of not having to try hard the first time because I know I will get a second chance."

And so I reiterate what I said before, and I also wonder about it and am scared by it:  We believe that learning by all is the supreme goal, and that everyone is capable of learning.  Scan through school and district websites and I guarantee you will see a variation of this statement on just about every one.

But do we believe it? 

I mean, do you know of any educators who, when asked this to their face, would say no to this claim?  I don't either.  Until time gets in the way and the class period is disrupted by that horrendous bell, or the end of the unit is here and we have to give that dreaded summative assessment.  At this point, learning has to come to an end because, of course, if they didn't learn by now then we have to move on.  Every one of them, lock-step in line with one another, all learning at the same pace and all learning the same thing... and all knowing that the learning must come to an end because we, the adults, the professionals, the ones who know best, who have done the research (hopefully), and who have spent billions of collective dollars on advanced degrees, have created this environment where learning is the one variable and time is the one fixed thing, and we know it should be the other way around.