“What could your teachers do to help you feel more motivated to do your best in school?” That was the question recently put to more than 1,000 students, ages 13-19, by the EdWeek Research Center.
Their most popular response? Give them the chance to redo assignments if they get a low grade.
Out of a list of 20 options for how teachers could improve their students’ motivation in school, that was the most popular, selected by 35 percent of teens. It was even more popular than teachers incorporating more humor, fun, and games into learning or providing more hands-on experiences, such as field trips and maker spaces—both of which 29 percent of students selected.
The survey, which touched on several topics related to student motivation and engagement in school, spanned from December 2022 to January 2023, and queried a nationally representative group of U.S. teens.
But allowing students to redo assignments gets mixed reviews, at best, from the educators who shared their thoughts on social media.
Of the roughly 3,000 teachers who responded to an unscientific LinkedIn poll, 89 percent reported that they do allow students to redo assignments while 11 percent reported that they don’t. Some educators clarified that they only allow students to redo their assignments under certain circumstances.
Teachers pointed to three main concerns with the practice:
1. Students might not try their best the first time
One problem several teachers expressed is that students simply won’t try that hard on the assignment the first time around.
“Policies like this have eroded any motivation for students to put any effort into being prepared BEFORE an assessment. Why study or do planning/drafts when they can go in cold and see what happens? Throw in the ‘just tell me what to do to pass’ mentality, and you have the full recipe for learning nothing.”
— Jeff H.
“Sadly, what happens is that students learn quickly how to play the game. They put in enough effort to get something done without really learning then redo it over and over. Some never figure out that they have to actually put the work in to learn instead of do it halfway. It puts tons more work on teachers. ...”
“I don’t always like to. If I’m being honest. It does teach perseverance but for many kids, it gives them a chance to be lazy and do the bare minimum as well. It also is the reason so many kids are in different places. Chaos masked as differentiated instruction. ...”
2. It adds additional work to the teacher’s plate
However effective allowing students to redo their assignments might be as a motivational or learning tool, the fact of the matter is that it requires teachers to do more work. That reality must be balanced against the effectiveness of the approach, several teachers said. Here’s how some teachers tackle this:
“I do allow students to redo or revise if they genuinely missed the boat (I teach high school). But as an English teacher grading hundreds of essays and a million other things, I cannot simply allow every kid to redo everything. Redos are important, but there has to be a balance with workload and also natural consequences …"
“This is a lot of work on the teacher. How do I move on w lessons AND assignments if they want to redo? How do I avoid cheating and plagiarism w this system? What happens when they get a job/career and their boss doesn’t allow them do overs!!”
“As a high school teacher with more than 150 students, tracking all that revision is a logistical nightmare. I do allow certain assignments to be revised and resubmitted but only while we’re in a particular unit of study. I’m over students handing in assignments from the beginning of a quarter because they ‘suddenly’ realize they’re failing. My students get their revised/completed work to me prior to the test when actually doing the assignments will be beneficial to their understanding of the curriculum. The kids get it and respect those classroom procedures.”
3. Few students actually redo assignments
Like many things in life, policies with good intentions don’t always work as planned. When the time comes, students may not take their teachers up on the chance to redo an assignment. Students may not do better the second go around—and, as some teachers pointed out, this practice might not help the students who are really struggling with motivation.
“Ours have the chance to redo assignments, turn in work extremely late, etc. Very few take the opportunity to redo work. They are less and less motivated every single year.”
“I’ve offered students to redo assignments. Only the ones who already try hard in class take it. The ones who don’t care that their grade is D or an F don’t bother. I actually forced one lazy kid to redo his assignment once since it was so dreadful it wasn’t worth grading. He still made a D. He just put zero effort into it both times.”
“My middle schoolers NEVER took the provided opportunities to redo assignments, and when they would come in for a test retake, they did literally nothing to prepare the second time. They often earned a lower score the second time around.”
The EdWeek Research center posed a similar question to a sample of U.S. educators—including teachers, principals, and district leaders, asking what teachers could do to help students feel more motivated to do their best in school.
Not surprisingly based on the teacher comments above, allowing students to redo assignments for better grades ranked 10th out of 24 possible selections. Only 31 percent of educators thought that was a good approach to improving motivation in their district or classrooms, compared with 54 percent who said offering more hands-on experiences—which was the most popular response.