Late Work Part I
At our last staff work day we discussed the large number of students who are failing. Our school's graduation rate has been slipping far too quickly. Of the students failing in my classes, only one has an F but has turned in all his work. The others are all missing one or more assignments. My policy is that I don't accept late work, but if the student feels she will not be able to get it done, she may e-mail me or call my room and leave a message. If the student does this, I will accept it late.
But I wonder if I my policy is hurting the students. Philisophically, I am old school. Students should turn work in on time because that is how the real world works. Or is it because it means less work for me? In exploring the real world issue, I've realized that there are ways to get around deadlines through communication. But often, those loopholes are costly. So, what is the best option for both teachers and students?
It's about learning.
Learning is primarily about gaining a skill. When students are expected to know how to write a five paragraph essay, if they don't write one adequetely, we must question why they didn't learn it. We certainly have presented the material, how come they didn't learn? We may be part of the problem. But when a student is taught to write a five pargraph essay, if they don't actually write one, we must question whether they know how to or not. We can't assess something that isn't turned in. The standards based model seems to allow endless opportunity for the student to demonstrate learning. Giving a zero grade affects the student grade far too much, and doesn't accurately reflect what the student learns. Allowing the student extra time to turn in the assignment would seem to allow that student the opportunity to demonstrate learning.
But what do we teach students when we allow them to turn in work whenever they want? We have all had the experience of the student who will do nothing for 9 weeks of a quarter, and then that very last week ask to make up every assignment. This leaves the teacher, who has carefully timed out units in order to allow for assessment, scrambling to do just that, plus previous assessments. Is this fair? Some will try and persuade the educator that, yes, it is fair, and in fact what we are expected to do. It is a fair enough criticism from those outside of the world of education and even some inside. The unfortunate aspect of accepting late work is that we do teach students that our deadlines do not matter, and that irresponsibility is acceptable. Or should we just accept that high school students are irresponsible, and this is all part of their training?
If we are in this business of educating students, don't we have an obligation to ensure that they have every opportunity to show us that they have, in fact, learned? By handing out a zero to a student, and saying, "Sorry, you know the policy," what I have I demonstrated to the student? That I am cruel? That I don't care? That responsibility is important? That regardless of what they know, it is more important to me to teach them the lesson of responsibility? And for what? My ego? Control? A few extra minutes of coffee time at Starbucks?
I don't know if I'll change my policy, but I certainly am willing to explore what the ramifications are. I think, at the least, I owe it to my students.