Let’s talk about test retakes & late work

One of the best things about teaching is that we get to start over, every year. We use what we’ve learned, and we get to try again, year after year. We have the privilegie of experimenting, reinventing and evolving. Thank the Lord, I am not the same teacher I was 15 years ago. (I feel like I own my early students an apology!) One big change is how I regard tests and grades and student responsibility. I am at the point in my career where I accept any work at any time, for any reason and students are always encouraged to retake any test or quiz at any time, for any reason. Young Señora Chase (well, really Señorita McCann was my early teaching alias, but let’s go with Young Señora Chase to keep things simple) would have a lot to say about it and Current Señora Chase has a lot to say, too. (Somethings never change!)

Young Señora Chase: But what about teaching responsibility? This isn’t preparing them for college or real life!

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: What I’ve learned is that in the real world, there are very few “if you mess this up there’s no coming back from it” situations. What happens if you forget to pay a bill? Do they cut your electricity the very next day? Do they tell you, ‘Welp, you missed a payment, so we don’t want your money, ever. Enjoy the rest of your life without electricity, sucker!” No, they do not. There are grace periods and assistance programs and even if they do end up turning off your electricity and tacking on a fee, they’re more than happy to turn it back on once you’re paid up.

Remember when you were 16 and failed your driver’s test? Aren’t you glad that the DMV gave you a second chance!?

Besides, there will always be those teachers (I’m looking at you, Young Señora Chase!) that won’t accept late work or takes off points for late work or doesn’t believe in test retakes… don’t worry, kids will go to college and know that some teachers will be super strict and others will be more flexible. Don’t you want to be the teacher that embodies compassion and grace and flexibility? Isn’t “Sometimes a Spanish test/assignment/project isn’t the most important thing to focus on, and it’s OK to adjust your priorities when something bigger and scarier comes along” a life lesson worth teaching? If a Good Cop/ Bad Cop scenario is inevitable, I pick Good Cop.

Additionally, if you’re assigning meaningful work, it will still be meaningful, even if it’s late. If you want their grades to reflect what they can actually do and interpret in Spanish, don’t you want them to show you what they can actually do and interpret, even if it’s later than the rest of the class?! Sweet Young Señora Chase, if a kid has a change of heart and wants to start doing some Spanish, smile at them and tell them you’re delighted by this news and are happy to help.

Young Señora Chase: So you’re telling me that you want to increase your work load?! You’re having so much fun grading stuff that you want to grade MORE?! Seriously, what is wrong with you?!

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: Ok, I’ll admit, this was the one I was most worried about when I did the about-face. You know better than anyone that I LOTHE grading and the thought of spending MORE TIME grading makes my stomach hurt. 5 years into this change of heart, I can assure you that, no, my work load has not increased and it’s actually made my life easier. Young Señora Chase, stop rolling your eyes and hear me out:

First of all, most students are not motivated enough to come in at lunch to redo a test or a quiz. A handful will and do, but my fears of grading double the amount of tests just hasn’t happened. If every student was taking every test multiple times, I probably wouldn’t be singing this tune. The policies apply to everyone, but not that many students are signing up for test retakes.

When students want to retake a test or quiz, I don’t want them to redo an identical test..they’ll do a similar thing with similar material. I’ve figured out a few tricks to make the creation of alternate tests easier. These Interpretive Quick Quizzes (Young Señora Chase, these are going to blow your mind!) make it a breeze to have them complete the same task, but give them an alternate thing to read or listen to. Often I’ll pull out a Write and Discuss that a different class wrote and use it for a reading or listening test. For writing and speaking tests, it takes no time at all to give them a different topic, prompt or picture to describe.

These policies have saved me plenty of headaches. I no longer have to calculate if a late assignment should be reduced by 25% because it’s a little late or 50% because it’s a lot late. I don’t have to check attendance records to verify if the absence was excused or unexcused. I’m free to look at the work and assess the Spanish that’s right in front of me, enter the grade into my gradebook and move on with my day.

So…it does take me a tiny bit of extra time to create something new and grade it…but I haven’t been fighting with students or parents about grades. “If you’re unhappy with your score, please, come on in and we’ll try it again”. Parents love it. Students appreciate it. Admin and counselors are delighted. I sleep well at night. I’m no longer the jerk that has to respond to an email, “Well, unfortunately your child has a 79.4% in Spanish class, so that’s a C. There’s nothing we can do about it. That C will haunt his transcript forever. Muahaha”. A little extra time is totally worth the pay off, in my (not so humble) opinion.

Don’t you worry, I’ve got systems in place to deal with late work and retakes. I want it to be easy for them to make up their missing assignments, and easy for me to get those grades into the gradebook. The running assignment list takes care of them and Google helps me manage it on my end. I have a whiteboard calendar in my classroom where students sign up to work with me at lunch on retakes or make up tests/quizzes. I cross off the dates that I am unavailable and they’re free to sign up on the remaining lunches that work best with their schedule.

Young Señora Chase: But what about RIGOR?! What if everyone gets an A?! They’ll think your class is a joke!

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: Oh naïve Young Señora Chase…what you didn’t understand back then is that I’m playing the long game now. You know what’s more important than their grade at the end of the semester? Their attitude towards Spanish and the people who speak it. When you’re a stickler about late work or grades, most kids look at the prospect of taking another year of language and say, “Uh, no thanks.” At least where I teach, Spanish is an elective. I need students to want to take my class! My job is not to be a gatekeeper to weed out the knuckleheads in the next level…it’s to foster a department where the knuckleheads stick around and acquire a skill that will serve them in real life. (Easy math: More knuckleheads = healthier department = increased job security for all of us)

Young Señora Chase: You’re saying there will be more Knuckleheads in my future?!

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: So many more Knuckleheads…but don’t worry. You’ll discover that they’re your favorite kind of students. Here are 9 lessons you’ll eventually learn about winning over the Knuckleheads.

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: I’m not so sure I’ve convinced you…but what if I told you that my change of heart really has an ulterior motive: language acquisition! It’s just another tool in my toolbelt to “load them up with comprehensible input”.

Young Señora Chase: Go on…

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: We know that our Little Darlings acquire language when they are exposed to LOADS of comprehensible input, right? Here’s a secret: tests are just another way to give them more input. When a kid wants to come in at lunch to take another test, what I really hear is “Oh, you want to read some more, in Spanish? ABSOLUTLY!” How could I say no to that? When a kid asks, “Is it cool if I do that late assignment from the dawn of time” what I really hear is “Is it cool if I get more Spanish input?!” HECK YES, please do!

And one more thing: our students preform better and acquire more when their affective filters are low. When they’re stressed or scared, it’s hard for them to make sense of the input coming at them. Before I hand my Little Darlings a test or quiz, I remind them. “There’s no reason to be stressed, if this doesn’t go well, you can always come in and retake it”. I think that little reminder is enough to give them the confidence to show me what they can do!

Hope that gives you some things to chew on…Young Señora Chase, if you want a peak into the future, here’s what your Tests will look like (but we’ll call them Celebrations of Knowledge, because it just sounds more fun!). Magic Cards are another tool to get meaningful grades into the gradebook painlessly. You’ll still hate grading in the future, but you’ll figure out how to play the game without too much stress.

Hang in there, Young Señora Chase…it’s so hard and exhausting at the beginning, when you’re figuring everything out. It gets easier and teaching will become more fun, I promise. I’m not saying everything will be smooth sailing, like that World Wide Pandemic when all the schools closed and you had to teach from home in your pajama pants, but…

Young Señora Chase: Wait, WHAT?!?!

Current, slightly wiser, Señora Chase: Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.

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