Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rick Wormeli: Redos, Retakes, and Do-Overs, Part One


  1. Great ideas and good reminders. Thanks for sharing!

    Lifelong Learning

  2. Rick Wormeli argues that setting deadlines is arbitrary and creates a system that punishes students for failing to achieve a certain level of competency within a certain amount of time. He further argues, that this system is counter productive and not modeled in the working world. He claims that professionals thrive in an environment where and when redos are allowed and encouraged. His examples include an Olympic runner, surgeons, musicians, and pilots (among others). The argument is that all of these professionals achieved their level of compentancy only after years of redos, and further, are not judged by the aggregated compilation of all their past redos, just on their present level of achievement. He chides teachers that adhere to deadlines and a work-place readiness philosophy.

    Here is why he is wrong.

    Unless there is an assumption of universal improvement; a notion that all students can acheive competancy if only given the chance (and time) to do so; allowing a redo simply creates another arbitrary deadline. Redos can not be given indefinitely. At some point, some one is going to say enough is enough. In such a case, the deadline will be imposed from outside; the end of the marking period, the end of the school year, or graduation day, for example. To suggest that deadlines don't reflect the real world has never missed a credit card payment, or a mortgage payment, or a doctors appointment without consequences.

    Let us consider the professionals Wormeli offers as evidence of the value of redos. He claims the Olympic runner is past the redo phase and is in the proficient-runner stage. But this misapplies the notion of redos. It wasn't the redo phase that got the runner to a level of proficiency. It was practice. The only reason why the runner has achieved an Olympic level of proficiency is because they survived the CUT phase. The proper analogy would be to suggest that the runner was allowed to re-run a losing race. The problem is, races have deadlines.

    And many professions, with high levels of achievement and proficiency, DO aggregate their past redos in forming the final assessment. The first place team is in first because of their season's performance, the good and the bad. Not because of the result of their last game. The most improved team in baseball can still finish in last place, especially if that improvement came too close to the deadline.

    Wormeli suggests that musicians get better by playing a lot. He's right. But his point is that "applying expectations for a high level of proficiency to students who are in the process of coming to know content is counterproductive, even harmful". But no one was suggesting that the intermediate expectation is the same as the final one. A first-week guitarist should know how to tune the instrument. If they can't master that, all future learning is affected. It is not counterproductive to "drop" a guitar student that can't learn how to tune. Not everyone can be a musician. The real harm comes from suggesting that they can. (Just watch American Idol).

    Redos have their place, but to suggest that the LACK of redos is a problem is false.