Glenda Horner


Houston, TX

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 6 Years ago
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Discovering Hope: Grading and Mindset in a Differentiated Classroom

My freshman year of high school, I found myself struggling in Algebra. In fact, I earned a devastating “D” at the end of the first grading period. Throughout the next three grading cycles, I continued to muddle my way through the course, earning nothing greater than a “C.” During my bumpy ride through Algebra, I discovered that there was hope. Mrs. Wilson, my teacher, offered to tutor me. At first, I hesitantly obliged, but I soon discovered that the extra time on task, along with the opportunity to redo several assignments, began to have a positive impact on my grades. In fact, I maintained a strong “B” average in the final grading quarter!

More than a dozen years later, I found myself tutoring a third grader in math of all things! I actually laughed out loud when a mother asked me to tutor her young daughter. After all, I had never been good at math. We began with multiplication facts and traveled together through her remaining years in elementary school not stopping until she was a sophomore in high school. From this young lady, I discovered that I actually knew a thing or two about math, and in turn, she did, as well. We both grew more confident in our abilities. I didn’t realize it then, but during this time in my life, I began to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, proposes that there are two mindsets that shape how people view learning, risk, challenges, intelligence, ability and self.Those with a fixed mindset view their talents and abilities as fixed – unalterable. They avoid failure at all costs because they are often paralyzed by fear.

People with a growth mindset, however, see themselves as a work-in-progress. They believe that they can continually enhance their intelligence, abilities and proficiency through effort and practice. They view challenges as learning opportunities. Failure is purely an opportunity to learn and grow.

I have always been captivated by the process of learning. Teaching is about watching something unfolding before your eyes. As a facilitator of learning, the challenge is in discovering ways to make learning happen. It is about moving students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. After all, isn’t that what DI is all about?

Last week, our district’s 83 campus principals, along with other campus and district administrators, viewed Rick Wormeli’s Assessment and Grading in a Differentiated Classroom:  Redos, Retakes, and Do-overs. What he has to say in this video to educators regarding redos, retakes, and do-overs really makes you think twice about your teaching, and in turn, grading practice.  Wormeli’s words are strong:

Exposure to consistent success doesn’t teach as much as exposure to failure. Recovery from a blind alley, a stumble, actually teaches more than just walking normally through it and never falling. We want to make it okay to fail and recover from it.

Rather than “document deficiencies,” Wormeli proposes that we “jump in and get face-to-face with the learner,” while helping students realize that although they may not know something today, they will come to know it.

Following the video, leaders were asked to examine their own views on redos, retakes, and do-overs, while considering the values, beliefs, and assumptions that helped shape their views. Then, they were invited to “stand in the shoes” of various school and community stakeholders – the parent of a bilingual/ESL student, a future professor or employer, a struggling student, a teacher – among others. Finally, table groups were asked to provide input for developing guiding principles of practice for our district.

During our time together, several common themes bubbled to the surface. In addition to agreeing on the importance of a growth mindset and establishing parameters for redos, retakes and do-overs, the leaders all agreed that the process needed to be flexible, yet consistent across the district. At that point, one of our leaders commented that: “It’s more than just changing a grading scale; it’s much deeper than superficial change.” Yes, indeed, that is true. Establishing a process and parameters for redos, retakes, and do-overs would involve a paradigm shift – a dramatic change in methodology and practice. After all, in an atmosphere of high-stakes testing, rigid accountability standards, and entrenched grading practices, we find ourselves embroiled in tension.  And, then there is the issue of how teachers deal with failure. Some maintain a “gotcha” mindset, while others continuously look for ways to get students to the content. Wormeli reminds us that: “There must be hope. We can’t teach if our whole mindset is gotcha.”

How do you make such a dramatic shift? I am curious about your experiences with the concept of redos, retakes, and do-overs. I’ve read several articles about trailblazing districts that have already forged ahead.  Are you among the trailblazers? If so, please share your insights, ideas, successes, and challenges with me. We would appreciate the opportunity to learn from your experiences.


Dweck, C. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.

Wormelli, R. Assessment and Grading in a Differentiated Classroom:Redos, Retakes, and Do-overs.Retrieved from on May 15, 2011.


Dr. Glenda Horneris the Coordinator for Staff Development in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, Texas. She will be blogging about her district’s journey in implementing Differentiated Instruction during the 2010-2011 school year. 


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25 May 11, 03:50 PM

Awesome post!! I appreciate the comments from our Canadian friend as I, too, have learned some of my best lessons by having the opportunity to use assessment as a tool for improvement, rather than as a final reflection of my ability. Ironically, this learning approach is used frequently in graduate and post-graduate studies. Yet, as you point out in your post, remains a difficult shift for schools caught in the high-stakes testing trap. I am interested in hearing from others who have successfully responded to this challenge and continue to prioritize learning for the sake of learning. Thanks for sharing!!

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25 May 11, 01:56 PM

I find it somewhat ironic commenting on this article as I learned my best lessons about do-overs while working on my MBA for an American University. I am Canadian, and had never experienced in Canadian University the concept of "we don't want to find out what you don't know, we want you to know" that the U.S. based MBA professors were proposing. This had a profoundly positive effect on me. Not all students in the MBA program got A's, but those that wanted to get it right, did. I now work as an educator and administrator in a 7-12 school where do-overs are an integral part of our work to mastery program. We find the students very appreciative of the assessment for learning approach, taking their perspectives on how testing can be your friend into their post secondary contexts. It really isn't all that difficult to make this part of your learning protocol as long as all stakeholders agree that there are still drop dead dates and expectations around minimal preparation prior to entering the assessment cycle. Thanks for sharing this!

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25 May 11, 01:40 PM

Great post. I was fortunate to get training on grading and assessment when I attended a workshop in which Rick Wormelli challenged me to think about what a grade means? Four year later grades in my course are linked to standards, reflect learning goals, and based on multifaceted summative assessments. I no longer need to inflate my grades with practices such as "grading-on-the-curve," or the use of non academic factors. I have replaced the 100 point scale with an even distribution scale (i.e 4pt scale). I have also replaced giving grades for "practice" with giving feedback. After 4 years of collecting data I see the "Mountain Curve" that Robert Marzano described in his book on grading/assessment. The biggest challenge I have faced was "rewiring" the thinking of students and parents on what a grade should represent and how it is communicated.

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24 May 11, 01:11 PM

I really enjoyed reading this post. Like you, I struggled with algebra. It's amazing to me how those memories last!

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