Retakes: Tips on Successful Implementation

by Mike Melie

What is the biggest challenge for a teacher who agrees philosophically with the idea of offering retakes? Is it convincing students of the benefits of proving their mastery of the material, even on a second try? Is it coming to terms with the fact that a teacher-student partnership in the learning process is a radical (and positive) departure from traditional, lecture-based instruction? Or maybe the fact that students can gain a sense of confidence and independence with each success brought about by a successful retake? Actually, in many cases, the biggest challenge for educators is not necessarily the acceptance of the concept of retakes but rather the implementation of retakes on a daily basis.

Possibilities for Offering Retakes

According to teachers in District 99 who offer retakes, there are several important elements to consider when setting up this type of opportunity for students. One is having a clear procedure in place that students need to follow in order to qualify for a retake – in other words, not all students should automatically be eligible for one. Students need to prove that they are ready for the retake for the right reasons and that they have prepared accordingly. A second consideration is fostering a systematic reflection by students in which they set goals and explain how they plan to be more successful in mastering the material the second time around. Here are some quick “starter” ideas from teachers that we’ve talked to who give retakes:

  • For a retake, retain the same quiz format, learning targets, and skills, but modify your questions – students should see the same skills but with different material from the first version of the assessment.
  • Organize your assessments in sections that are each based around a specific learning target/objective/essential question. That way, a student can look at a returned assessment and know exactly what skills he or she should work on – the sections where he or she missed the most points are the places to focus on for the retake. Then the retake you offer only has to be a few questions long – i.e., a specific “skill section” of your original test rather than a new version of the entire test. This will cut down on your grading time and efficiency with managing retakes.
  • Use retake petitions – have students apply for retakes by demonstrating their reflection, preparation, and readiness for a retake. Remember that not all kids should automatically be allowed a retake unless they can prove that they’re doing it to master essential learning targets.
  • Students must complete and correct specific work before being allowed a retake.
  • Set clear deadlines – allow students to experience the natural consequence of not meeting deadlines.
  • Make it a learning experience – have meaningful conversations with your students about the learning process, their study habits, and ways they can master the material in the future. Sometimes a formal conversation of this type can qualify as your actual retake!
  • Use your online gradebook to track progress; consider entering retakes in place of a student’s original grade for an assessment or as a separate category that can replace the student’s original score.
  • Organize your class in a portfolio format – students can make corrections and changes to their work according to your guidelines up until the final, summative due date.

Have Clear Expectations to Help You to Stay Organized
The common thread that runs through our conversations with teachers who give retakes is to have a straightforward, clear procedure in place and to stick to that procedure. Explain your policy to students at the beginning of the year and follow through on it. Have everything ready before you offer retakes, and most importantly, know what you want to accomplish. Remember that the purpose of a retake is for students to demonstrate their mastery of core skills, and that the bulk of the work in this process should fall on the students (not the teacher!) as students try to prove their readiness for a retake. Retakes can be a powerful learning tool, especially if organized in a manageable way. For examples of handouts and procedures that teachers in District 99 have used for retakes, click on the “Resources” tab at the top of the blog above.

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