Being Slow…Mindset…2nd Chances…Learning

On the drive to school yesterday morning AS (age 6) explained to me that she was the slowest in her class.  It was very matter of fact.  “I am the slowest in class, Momma.  I finish last every time. It takes me longer than everyone else.”  With a very heavy heart, I explained that I thought it was okay to be last.  Learning is not a race.  Everyone learns in their own time.  AS persisted “But, Momma, I am always last.  I am slow.”  I asked her why; why did she think she was slow?  “I like to read what I write.  It is fun, but it takes a long time. I like to look at it to figure out the words.”

Rule Three from The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is SLOW IT DOWN. 

“Why does slowing down work so well? The myelin model offers two reasons.  First, going slow allows you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision with each firing – and when it comes to growing myelin, precision is everything.  As football coach Tom Martinez likes to say ‘It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.’ Second, going slow helps the practitioner to develop something even more important: a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprint – the shape and rhythm of the interlocking skill circuits.”  (p. 85)

 We still take a lot of heat from our colleagues about 2nd chance tests.  It makes many people, teachers and parents, uncomfortable. 

About our version of 2nd chance tests: 

  • Our learners take the test; we mark (not grade) each problem as correct or incorrect, and return the paper to the child without a number-no grade yet. 
  • Their job is to find, correct, and identify errors.  We ask them to categorize an error as either a “simple mistake” or “needs more study”. 
  • We also ask them to complete a table of specification and determine their proficiency on the assessed essential learnings. 
  • After all problems are corrected, students write a reflection about their work. 
  • Armed with the experiences of teamwork, feedback, and self-assessment, students are given a 2nd Chance test and are tested on only the problems missed during the first testing experience. 
  • The final test grade combines the correct work from the first test with the work from the 2nd Chance test. 
  • Yes, it is completely possible to bomb the first test and end up with a 100 in my grade book.  

My assumption is that this discomfort comes from how non-traditional – radical – this concept comes across.  Just because it is different does not make it a bad idea, does it?  The discomfort comes from gut-reaction or theory rather than practice.  Shouldn’t you try it?  What do learners say?

Here’s what some of my learners say.

“If you give your best effort the first time around, you will have learned more in the process and the second time around will be less stressful therefore making the hard work the first time more rewarding. I think that the second chance test is a very valuable learning technique. Even after that unit is complete, it shows you where you need to improve before you start building on those concepts. So far this year, I have seen great improvement in my learning from my previous years in math. This year it has all started clicking, and I am excited about the new units to come.”

“Before we jump into a new chapter, our class usually takes a formative assessment to tell us where we are and what we know before we actually start learning from Mrs. Gough. I take these seriously because I think they really do help. If I can see where I am in the beginning and then where I am in the end, I can see how much I’ve learned and accomplished.”
~ MC

In Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck writes

“When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them.   And if abilities can be expanded – if change and growth are possible – then there are still many paths to success.” (p. 39)

More from my learners:

“Taking formative assessments and tests is something that I think is very important. I give my best effort, and work to learn from my mistakes. The second chance test is something that I think helps us actually learn from taking tests and making mistakes, rather than just getting tested on the material. Math has become one of my favorite subjects this year, and I have worked to learn from all my mistakes.

“I think that first chance tests and formative assessments are amazing because I can first understand my level and see what to work on and then really learn the material on the test to do better on the second chance. I do well in groups (except for the occasional random moments), and I love working in groups instead of taking notes the whole time. By helping others, it also helps me understand what I am doing wrong or just what I am supposed to do.”
~ HA

I feel the same as Daniel Coyle in the epilogue of The Talent Code when he writes

“Mostly though, I feel it in a changed attitude toward failure, which doesn’t feel like a setback or the writing on the wall anymore, but like a path forward.”

One more quote from our learners

“Overall, I feel as though I have done a pretty good job so far, but there is no one who can stop me from really stepping it up to an unbelievable level. The rest of the year I am going to fix any flaws I have, and show everyone what I can do when I REALLY put my mind to something.”
~ LM

In case this has been too broad for you, let’s go deep.  Here is one learner’s story from three perspectives.

From my perspective…

“GW came to me feeling that she is not very good at math and that she hasn’t been encouraged to like math.  She seeks an advocate and coach.  I strive to support GW as she becomes empowered to take control of her learning.  She is learning that it is great to struggle to learn; it is worth it to struggle to learn; and through the struggle she finds success.  Success leads to more confidence and more success.”   

From GW’s perspective…

“When I started out in math I had a really hard time and math was a definite challenge for me and my first test grade didn’t make it any easier. I was “in a hole” as my parents would tell me and I had to dig myself out. I started to go to extra help a lot more often and made solid B’s on my midterm and exam grades. What helped me through this process was the support. Support from not only my family but from Mrs. Gough and the faculty that really encouraged me to do my best.”

 From GW’s parents’ perspective…

“GW quietly got way behind in math first semester.  Partly due to an inner voice telling her she did not do well in math and partly a lack of commitment and time management. GW had given up.  Mrs. Gough communicated to us that GW needed to demonstrate the deep practice method on all homework. With our support and encouragement (not hands on help) GW began to do the deep practice on homework and began to “review and preview” every night. Our emphasis was ‘the process’ not the letter grade.

Her great success is directly attributed to the teacher/student relationship that Jill forged. Through encouragement (emails), support (office hours), an emphasis on deep practice and patience, Jill taught GW to try and try again, make the mistake, work through it, and get to the answer. Through perseverance, determination and resilience GW moved from failure and “not being good at math” to more than just passing. For us the 80 on her final exam was an A+ in effort, team work, student/teacher relationship, and determination.”

There are many take-a-ways for me…

If I can see where I am in the beginning and then where I am in the end,
I can see how much I’ve learned and accomplished

 It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.

I have worked to learn from all my mistakes.

There are still many paths to success.

This year it has all started clicking.

I am excited about the new units to come.

There is no one who can stop me from really stepping it up to an unbelievable level.

Try and try again, make the mistake, work through it, and get to the answer. 

So here’s to being slow, making mistakes, and trying again.  It’s about learning content and skills.  It’s about learning persistance and determination.  It’s about learning.  Period!

Time is a variable.

Learning is the constant.


Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born : It’s Grown, Here’s How. New York: Bantam, 2009. 217.  Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. 39. Print.


  1. I also take a lot of heat for my 2nd chance assessments, both from parents and fellow teachers. Some parents love it, some say it’s not “real life” to have a second chance. My main goal is for students to learn, whether it takes one try or multiple tries.


  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s a myth that second chances are not a part of the real world. Life is full of do-overs. Cholesterol test, driving test, marriage. You can even get remarried to the same person!! Why you would I don’t know, but it’s allowed! Life has very few one-shot deals, and even if they do, they usually apply to ADULTS, not teenagers. I love this preparation for the unknowable future. We would never hand a 12 yr. old keys to a car and say, “Well, you better get used to it now because one day you’re going to drive.”

    I’d even give a 3rd chance. If we want students to learn then we have to give them the chance to show their new knowledge…period! I always organized 2 writes, but if a students asks for a 3rd, why would I say no?

    Great post. Thanks!


  3. Superb post! The responses from your students should have all of us reflecting on our practise. We place way too much emphasis on getting it right, fast. How much more engaging is learning when we allow the learner to take risks with some degree of safety? Why are we in such a hurry to measure/rank our students?


  4. Thanks for your post. I’m new to your blog and am training to be a chemistry teacher here in Sydney Australia. Some of the responses from your students almost brought a tear to my eye – seeing how encouraged they were, and how well they were learning the process of learning from their mistakes. I agree with Tom; there are many times in life where we get second chances, so we might as well develop the skills to use our mistakes as an opportunity to learn, not a failure. I can see that your students are in very safe hands!


  5. Really enjoyed reading this post; it shaped my thinking about my work with student paper revisions (where I’ve seen the most learning take place). Roll on, Jill!


    • Thanks Thad. I’d really like to know more about your process for coaching learners through the revision process. It would help me grow to know what you do. When we add to each others toolkit of strategies, we increase our ability to differentiate.


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