I imagine I will remain unsure about the correlation between grades and learning for the foreseeable future. But, one thing I am pretty sure about is the correlation between grades and doing your work. If, then, the work has been constructed in a way that promotes learning, there might be a more meaningful connection between grades and learning…
I’m headed into what I call the Season of Redos. I have a very generous redo policy for my lower division classes (aural skills 1-4, music theory 1-4): any non-exam grade may be redone once, assuming you turned something in the first time (even if it was a blank piece of paper or showing up to class like a blank sheet of paper, unprepared to perform). I think about one-third of my students take advantage of the redo policy. Combining this policy with a +/P/nP grading system and a set of assignments designed with specific learning objectives (transparently shared with students) is increasing learning for a significant number of students without significantly increasing my grading burden. Here are the logistics, the pros, the cons, and a few concluding thoughts:
- I have two cut-off dates for redos in this class, which is divided into two modules. Owing to those cut-off dates, I’m not currently receiving/hearing redos of work done in week 1 of the semester.
- With the +/P/nP system, grading remains easy. I am not put in the position of deciding if something is a B+ or an A-. Rather, + is excellence and ownership, nP is failing work –work that didn’t accomplish the stated learning objective– and P is everything else. With this simple rubric, the grading of redos is not onerous.
- Students can redo performances before class, after class, during drop-in office hours, or during an appointment. I usually schedule a 5-minute appointment for redos unless there are a lot of them. Written redos are turned in at any time; I encourage them to redo assignments while they’re fresh in their minds rather than waiting for the end of the semester.
- By revisiting and improving work, students who are aiming for a + intentionally commit to excellence, while students who are aiming for a P are focusing on the learning objective.
- I only hear a redo once–they can’t keep coming and coming. I do at times make an exception for students aiming for a P if I think it’s worth their time to keep working towards that learning objective. But, the truth is that sometimes some students cannot accomplish every learning objective.
- By encouraging students to be transparent about when they’re not prepared for class, I listen to fewer “let’s try to wing it” performances during class and students are more honest with themselves about how little or how much they’re preparing.
- Students feel like they have a lot of control over their grade. Obviously, they always have control over their grade, but there’s something about having redos available to them that makes them feel less panicked.
- some students will save all of their work for the end of the semester. They do this by coming to class unprepared (and telling me they’re unprepared so that I don’t embarrass them and waste time by calling on them to perform) or by turning in a blank piece of paper for an assignment. This procrastination means that they’re not getting the slow, steady burn of learning that I think is optimal. But, you can only lead a horse to water, right?
- There will be redos that don’t achieve the student’s goals and it’s tough sometimes to hold the line between what is a nP, a P, and a +.
- There are a lot of small details to keep track of, but electronic gradebooks have been very helpful in keeping track of these details (and with helping students keep track of their own grades).
A few concluding thoughts
I love the redo system coupled with the grading system. It feels doable to me and more learning is happening, both at the B vs. A level (reflecting excellence) and at the C/D vs. B level (reflecting “getting it.”) This system also places a lot of control in the students’ hands. When they ask how to improve their grade, it’s simple: “don’t miss classes, redo everything that you can.” It follows, then, that (a) students rarely ask for extra credit work and (b) when they do, I have a very easy “no.”
The only facet of this policy I’m considering tweaking is the requirement that a student be in class in order to have the right to redo something. This policy is doubles as an attendance policy, which I don’t believe in having. Is it ok to never come to class and then do all your “redos” at the end of the module? It seems to be contrary to everything this school –with its emphasis on teaching and small classes– stands for. But if the student isn’t learning anything during class time because of lack of engagement, failings on my part, or the difficulty level of the material, then shouldn’t they be allowed to try and use their time differently?
Perhaps I’ll set up an experiment tracking attendance from similar semesters with different “attendance” policies…