Flipping A & P: The Benefit of the Second Chance

Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
National Gallery of Art, Washington

I really want my students to understand Anatomy and Physiology, not just memorize the terms and some factoids.  So I try to design assignments that challenge them to connect ideas, delve into ramifications and apply information in new ways.  When my students complete these group assignments I hope that they have a deeper understanding of the concepts covered.  At least on the questions they got right.  The missed questions are a different story.

Students rarely asked why they got a question wrong or what the correct answer was.    I could write insightful comments to guide them and it would mostly be a waste of ink. I handed back these assignments only to have the grade glanced at and then the paper stuffed into a binder, never to be looked at again.  I thought “If they would just go back over these missed questions, they would learn so much more.”

Of course, the only sure way to get students to do something is to attach points to it.  So I borrowed an idea from mastery learning, and started to allow students to resubmit work for a higher grade.  Unlike mastery, I only allow an assignment to be resubmitted once. When given unlimited attempts, I find that students just start guessing, hoping to hit the right answer eventually.

My students work in groups of 3-4, so re-grading work isn’t as daunting for me as it may sound.  Don’t get me wrong, I do a considerable amount of grading, but I have really seen a benefit from the “redo”.

The biggest benefit is the clearing up of misunderstandings for the students. For example, on a recent protein synthesis assignment, students were confusing amino acids with codons. Because they went back and tried again, they realized the difference. Ideally, they won’t have the same confusion on the exam.

You may not want to let your students resubmit every assignment you give them, but consider trying it for an assignment that they find especially difficult.  I find a little extra grading pays big dividends.


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