The Power of a Retake


You know those magical moments in your classroom when you hear the sounds of pencils pouring out words and ideas on your students' papers; you can see their bright eyes lighting up because ideas are clicking; the room has this quiet buzz that signifies your students are completely engaged in their work. They get it. They're moving onto next level thinking.

This afternoon was that kind of moment in my classroom. Fifteen students had signed up to retake our first assessment. Their first assessment results showed an ELA class of literal thinkers. They were understanding the text, but their understanding reflected basic, beginner level thinking.

For our retake, I knew what I had to do with my students: I had to rewind, refresh, and model for my students what it looked like to dig deeper into a text and get analytical.

So how do you maximize the power of a retake to bring your students to next level thinking and learning? Here are three tips from my classroom to yours:

1. Give students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

When I ask my students to sign up for retakes, they sign up in class by handing me their original assessments. I keep them in a neat pile and take attendance at the retake after school by handing them back to students. If I have any no-shows, I immediately know who they are so I can touch base with them later.

Once all students have their original assessments in hand, I ask for volunteers to share their mistakes. In a small group, we pass papers around and discuss mistakes we can learn from. In a larger group, we project mistakes on the document camera. We read the original answer, talk about what the student did well, and point out where the student can improve.

Our mistakes are amazing teachers.

2. Show students exemplars.

When I grade each assessment, I set aside and mark the answers that go above and beyond. For this assessment, I set aside student answers that reflected higher level analysis of the text. I looked for answers that were insightful and full of text-based inferences.

After going over mistakes in our retake session, I show students a few of the exemplar answers I gathered while grading. I never reveal names (they're irrelevant). I want students to focus on the qualities of a strong answer. We discuss what students did well on the exemplars, and we brainstorm actions we can take to reach that level.

3. Create retakes that target the same standard.

To truly measure understanding, I avoid simply giving students the same assessment a second time. Instead, I create a retake that targets the same standard, but in a different way or using a different text/part of the text. Sometimes, especially in ELA, this is an easy task.

For our retake today, students were working to cite evidence to support an analysis of the text. Our original assessment asked students to cite and analyze text from chapter 5. Now that we were further in the text, my students retake asked them to do the same analysis, but with chapter 10 of our text. It was a completely new opportunity to demonstrate the same skill.

I have a quote from Khan Academy hanging in my classroom. It says, "Failure is just another word for growing, and you keep going. This is learning." I don't want growth mindset to simply be another trendy educational word that floats around my classroom. I want my students to have the opportunities to experience the power of it.

Giving my students the opportunity to retake their assessments gives them the opportunity to improve their learning. "But Mrs. A, what if we don't do well on the retake? Can we take it again?" Yes, you will always have the opportunity to learn in this class.