Making it harder to fail than pass can improve student engagement
- High school science teacher Angela Campbell writes for Edutopia on how she made failure harder work than passing in a class where many students feared working hard might prove their assumed inadequacy.
- Campbell uses a four-pronged strategy including presenting a short list of learning objectives for each unit in “I can” statements; using guided practice to learn the material; helping students review for the test and the type of questions they will encounter; and requiring them to retake the test if they make below a 70.
- If a student fails a test, they are presented with a “test map” that shows them the learning objectives they are weakest on, as well as a targeted intervention worksheet including practice assignments they must complete before they retake the test.
The approach this teacher takes has several advantages including the teaching of subject mastery rather allowing students to passively learn the least material needed for passing the class. The approach also forces students to look at why they fail and develop study skills that will help them succeed in other classes. One of the key features of this approach is the feedback students receive in the form of the test map and personalized intervention strategies. Another advantage of this approach is that it teaches the value of perseverance or grit in student performance, a key element in social-emotional learning.
However, this approach requires a lot of time and commitment on the part of an instructor, especially as many of these interventions are personalized. This approach may be more effective if teachers and/or instructional coaches work together to create a bank of tests and interventions for the class throughout the school or district that could be easily shared. The use of technology in providing alternate test assessments and practice question banks that teacher can track could also take the burden of time off of teachers.
However, the issue of retaking tests remains controversial. Some educators feel that the method not only requires too much time on the part of teachers, but penalizes students who work hard to pass the test the first time. Some feel that cumulative assessments accomplish the same goal in requiring student mastery of material. Schools may need to address strategies for dealing with these issues, especially in a highly competitive grade environment. However, the goal of education is to teach students learning strategies, and that needs to be taken into consideration as well.