There is an issue that comes up regularly when I am working with educators and it revolves around the issue of second chance. More often than not, the defense for not giving students a second chance identifies the title of this post. Those who are adamantly opposed speak as if, in the real world, there is no opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and/or learning after the first attempt. The examples that contradict that belief would fill up this post and more. It is seemingly dichotomous to state a belief that all students can learn and pair it up with “on the first opportunity”. Chris Weber and I tackle this thorny issue in our upcoming book “RTI Roadmap for School Leaders: Plan and Go” thusly:
Educators have an important decision to make, because a firm commitment to all students learning at high levels and a firm commitment to only one chance to demonstrate that learning are entirely incompatible. We all recognize, as parents, caregivers, and/or teachers, that children rarely learn at the same rate and in the same manner. To terminate instruction at an arbitrary date and suggest that learning of that content is at an end, and the one-time opportunity to demonstrate mastery is upon us, defies all logic. But what about teaching responsibility? It is our position that responsibility is better taught by demanding that students persevere until they succeed than by giving them only one chance to do so. What are we teaching students when we communicate that they don’t have to actually learn the content being assessed once they’ve failed that first test—that they are off the hook and need not keep trying? Does it not teach responsibility when we demand that students keep up with the new content and receive additional support on the old content until they reach the level of understanding needed for them to be successful? We are teaching children perseverance; we are insisting that they learn how to learn, and continuously strive to improve.
In the real world folks are expected to learn and grow, to get better at what they do as they continue to do it. We want this next generation of learners to persevere as they make the transition to life beyond the walls of their neighborhood school, to gain proficiency in skills not content, and to conceptually process the learning, not simply be on a quest for the right answer the first time. I know that when FAIL is defined as First Attempt In Learning, the learning will continue to happen. When it’s defined as an arbitrary cutoff, we’ll lose many potential growth opportunities.