Every now and then I get a Skype call from my niece asking for my help with her homework. Recently I received one of these calls about her writing class. She shared her paper with me via a Google Doc and we went through her paper looking for examples of figurative language and spent some time doing impromptu grammar lessons. She’s a conscientious student and does well in school but, like all students who care about their work, she has her own self doubt and wants reassurance that she’s doing it right. Once we were done and getting ready to sign off, she grumbled a little about the rest of her homework and told me she was dreading it. Of course I had to ask her what she was working on. Here’s kind of how our conversation went:
Me: What are you working on now?
Her: I have to redo a test from my PE class.
Me: You didn’t do so well the first time?
Her: Nope, I guess I missed a lot of questions. But at least this time I get to use my book.
Me: What do you mean you “guess” you missed a lot of questions? Didn’t you see your test?
Her: Nope, my teacher just told me and some other kids that we missed too many and we needed to do it again.
Me: So you have no idea what you did right and what you did wrong, you just have to do it all over again?
There was more conversation after that and I asked more questions but quickly realized that, because she is a conscientious student, she’s going to do exactly what was asked of her but that really, she probably wouldn’t learn anything new from it because she didn’t know what she did wrong. She was dutifully compliant.
After closing down Skype, I began to wonder how often I had done this same thing with my own students thinking that I was helping them by giving them another opportunity to redo and complete their work to get a better grade. Then I realized the difference, I wouldn’t have done that without letting them see their first test to know what they need to work on. In my neice’s case, there was no feedback, no learning target, no goal. It was busy work that would help her boost her grade but didn’t have anything to do with helping her master the content or skills of the unit. I trust that it was done with the best intentions but for the wrong reasons.
I know that this assignment is now complete and she has moved on. Has she better learned that content now? Probably not. Is her grade better? Probably. I guess it just depends what is more important.