Saturday, September 1, 2018

The "Once a Zero - Always a Zero" policy as a first step

First Step by Porapak Apichodilok 

Every year at this time, I get pushback from many of my educator friends and the parents of my students for AdVENTURE's "Once a Zero-Always a Zero" policy. I hear cries of "how is a student able to recover from this demotivating policy", "this sets up kids for failure" and "this policy promotes a fixed mindset". It seems that I am alone in this world of "First Attempt At Learning" mentality. The adults hear "zero" and appear to stop listening to how the policy is actually implemented.

What is very interesting is that I do not hear the same cries from the students sitting in my classroom. The students that are actually living and working with this policy in place, understand what it means, how to avoid that zero and most especially how it actually sets the stage for ongoing feedback and "re-dos".

Let me explain...

The only way a student in my classes will ever get a zero for an assignment is for doing absolutely nothing by the time the work is due, and I mean exactly that. Zeros are avoided by simply putting in a name on a paper and/or clicking turn in/submit if it is digital work. This is our way of having students acknowledge that there was a due date for the assignment and that if they "forgot" they are aware that there is work to be done. After what could be a pretty much blank turn in, everything is re-gradeable for full credit.

The Once a Zero policy at AdVENTURE, actually allows my students to, dare I say it, "Fail Forward". The idea is that instead of having students turn nothing in or extend due dates waiting for the student to turn in "perfect work", I'd much rather have a student turn in a piece of incomplete or badly done work, go over it and give feedback and set up a conference where we can talk about the pieces that are hard for him/her, and regrade (often several times). In order to achieve this, I have to know where the struggles, errors or misconceptions lie, and I cannot do that if the student simply avoids the whole thing and does not turn anything in.

The student who turns in something that he/she knows is not perfect and knows that by turning it in he/she is acknowledging that help is needed, also knows that help is on the way. He/she knows that there will be multiple opportunities to regrade until the work is where they want it to be, so in reality, this policy ends up fostering the growth mindset of the lifelong learner. "I could not do it when I first turned in, but I can do it now."

Of course, this only works because we allow multiple submissions and regrades, and this is where I think the adults get the wrong idea. "Once a zero, always a zero" does imply that there are no second chances, and yes, there are no second chances for those that decide to go the complete avoidance route, but there are two caveats to this:

1. We really do not allow students to not turn something in. On turn in day, you will often hear the call of "everyone stand up, you may sit when I say your name", while I go over the list of papers/digital submissions that I have. Anyone left standing after this gets a visit from me and cannot leave the room until whatever they have has been submitted, again even if basically blank with just a name.
2. The relationship we have with students is one of trust, where they know that resubmitting is not only allowed, but encouraged, and re-grading is as immediate as possible, always for full credit. The onus is on the student to take that first step by submitting what they have.

"Once a Zero, Always a Zero" has actually helped us become better at feedback and motivated our students to continue their learning journey as more empowered individuals. They have come to expect that a first attempt can always get better and that if they take that first step of submitting their work, their teachers are there to help throughout the process.