Friday, March 30, 2012

Do Overs

This teaching gig is difficult at times. One of the little day to day difficulties is what I call the "do-over." Students hand in an assignment, and you grade it, record the grade, and hand it back, and one (or more) of the students wants a "do-over" so that they can hand it in again, and you can grade it again, and record it again, replacing the original grade.

There's certainly a place for revision in teaching at all levels. There has to be a way to try something, not get it right, try again, and maybe again and again, each time trying to get it better.

That's a really important part of the learning process. I build revision time into many assignments, both before the assignment is graded by doing peer editing (and meeting with students who come to office hours or make an appointment) and sometimes after (when I encourage first year writing class students to revise).

I also build in a different sort of revision by asking students to do small, low stakes assignments in a series. They don't do any one assignment more than once, but they write, say, ten journals over the semester, for a total of 10% of the grade overall; thus they can mess up a bit and figure out what's expected, and then do better as they learn (or get in the habit) to develop ideas more fully and write more fully.

There are also times when a "do-over" isn't appropriate, though. I don't let students "do-over" midterms, for example, or a number of other assignments. (And students don't tend to ask for "do-overs" of midterms.")

I get frustrated, though, when students expect a "do-over" of something that doesn't seem appropriate. That happened today. And then, when I'm frustrated, I blog.

Do students today expect more "do-overs" than students in my generation? (I have no idea, obviously, because I only knew what I was expecting as far as "do-overs" in my generation, and I was too afraid of professors to ask content questions, much less for a "do-over.")

When do you think a "do-over" is most helpful/approriate for student learning?

When not?

To what extent do student requests for "do-overs" come up against not pedagogical resistance but re-grading issues?


  1. I'd like to be able to differentiate between when students want a do-over because they want to learn the material better, and when they simply want a better grade. (Or both, I suppose--but if it's all about the grade, I'd feel less inclined to help.)

    I actually don't get requests for do-overs. But maybe that's partly an issue of campus culture (a lot of our students, sadly, seem to be OK with C's), or perhaps some of my assignment structures automatically allow for do-over-like situations. In my surveys, for instance--which are required for majors but also fulfill a gen ed requirement--I require students to write 3 of 6 possible papers throughout the semester. If they write a 4th, I drop the lowest grade--an accommodation for students who are still learning to write papers for college-level lit classes. (Almost none of them take me up on this, but I think that the option boosts morale?)

  2. Like Heu Mihi, I build in optional papers and drop a low grade if they complete one. They can also use one paper as the basis for a longer paper. I don't do formal revisions, though, because I could never get past the "I revised this, so why didn't you give it an A?" part of the equation, although maybe all students don't do that.

  3. In this term's sophomore survey, students are marked on the best 5/8 tutorials. If they only managed to hand in 3 or 4, unless they have a medical excuse, no mercy. If they want to improve their mark, I figure having 8 opportunities is enough.

    Like you, I don't care for do-over or extra-credit request. I will sit with students and discuss with them how they can learn from this current outcome to improve in the last stages. Those who take that offer usually do remarkably better on the last assignments or exam because they've taken the time and made the effort to improve.

  4. like a lot of people, I give optional papers (I call them make-ups) where students who didn't hand it or want to replace a low grade with a higher one get a chance to do so.

    For bigger projects and papers, I don't let students just re-write. I require them to do extra work--they have to write up a revision plan, meet with me about it, and then do the re-write. This usually weeds out the students who got a low grade because they didn't want to work hard in the first place, but doesn't make me feel like a grinch for enforcing the same policies for everyone.

  5. One of my professors this semester has a sort of "do-over" built into the syllabus with the research paper. The paper is due a few weeks earlier than usual, but we have the chance to discuss improvements, make revisions, and re-submit it if we choose. I think this is a great idea because it encourages actual academic improvement vs. just trying to get a better grade.