Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Late Work Part II

After writing part one, I found myself looking at the issue from the perspective of a student. I know that both in high school and college, I failed to turn in assginments. Some teachers said, "Sorry, you know my policy." I accepted it. I never complained to the teacher that the policy was unfair, and never even thought that my grade inaccurately reflected my learning. One class in particular comes to mind. English Literature I. I have never been fond of the old English Literature, and when I took the class in college, my dislike for the content overrode my appreciation for the professor, Julia Young--a great woman, and the only person in the Pacific Northwest I allowed to call me by my childhood name of Andy.
I earned a C+ in that class because I chose not to do all of the reading and missed a couple of assignments. I never felt the need to go to Professor Young and ask to turn the work in late. But I knew that a C+ did not reflect my ability and understanding. Was I wronged? I don' think so. When the next opportunity to show my understanding came, English Literature II, I did the work and earned an A.
Why do today's students need us to coddle them, give them chance after chance. The no late work policy has worked for years. What has changed? Is the sole purpose of a grade to reflect the content learning, or is it meant to reflect, also, something of the whole student?
The second view we mus consider is that of the responsible student. The one who will turn the work in on time. I know that, in high school, if a teacher allowed late work, I would have taken advantage. But I knew students who would have been greatly annoyed that I earned an A without turning in assignments on time while they earned a B with all assignments turned in on time. Would a policy that allows late work be unfair to the student who does his assignments on time?
I wonder about the real world that we teachers often refer to. Let's take two builders. They both are building a house, and are given a deadline of two months by the local community. The first builder finishes the house on time and sells the house for $300,000. The second builder runs into some complications and can't finish on time. He takes an extra two weeks. But that house sells for $400,000. What is the consequence? Nothing. The community accepts the late work because it will raise property values more than the $300,000 house.
Ulitmately, does fairness matter in education. Well, for public education fairness does matter. Every kid deserves the same treatment under the law. But it is not as if one student is not recieving a benefit that the other is recieving, so does this fall under true unfairness?

The final issue in fairness relates to us, the teacher. Is it fair to a teacher to have to accept assignments whenever a student decides she is ready? We have the monumental task of teaching a large number of skills in 182 days. Our assignments, especially culminating assignments, serve to let us know that the time has come to move on to the next skill. How can we move on if we don't know where students are along the continuum? The differentiated instruction camps will tell us that we have to teach to the individuals wherever they are. But I am not that good. I can't teach to a group of 15, a group of 10, a group of 5, and a group of 2 at the same time. When we get right down to it, we really don't have a whole lot of time to accomplish this. We feel compelled to keep every student busy at all time. How do we do this? And ulitmately, does $40,000 compensate enough for such a task. I made that much as a bartender for a chain restaurant--and believe me, that is not nearly as challenging as teaching.

In trying to compare this aspect of fairness to the real world that exists outside of education, there really isn't anything to compare it to. No other job in the world meets with 150 clients everyday. The lack of comparision means that we don't have much to draw from in terms of solving the shadow issues.


At 5:24 PM , Anonymous Laura said...

I have been reasonably satisfied with my approach to this dilemma this semester: I require late work waivers. This way the "whenever we feel like it set" has a penalty imposed, there is a discouraging factor (ie more work in the form of 2 complete paragraphs), and I have an easy identifier for the late work when it arises. Plus if they do not meet the specifications of the form, I'm not obligated to accept it.

I have had much more lenient policies in the past, and I think they did hurt the kiddos. I also worry that policies in place in our school that allow them to make up absences on Saturdays or classes in "5th period" or over the summer send the wrong message. On the other hand, It's not very encouraging to say, "That's it. You fail. End of story."

Sometimes, however, I wonder if the encouragement is worth the trade-off in laziness that we've seen.

At 8:10 PM , Blogger Mrs. N said...

I've been following this line of thinking, and I'm impressed with the sides of the issues you've brought out, too. My thoughts, which I've been thinking about lately before I knew you were, too:

1) My late policy at the beginning of the year was 20% off for one day or more late, with a limit of 5 days late. Then it turned into 20% off for one or more days, with a limit of whenever I get around to grading the bulk of them (like papers, that take me a week or more to grade). My thinking: if I haven't finishing grading all of them, then there's no harm inflicted on me if I accept it late.

2) Then, my late policy turned into turn it whenever, no penalty of points. I was up to my ears in grading of things that are weeks (or months!!) old. Most of these students? This is not their work. This is some poor kid's work who did it, handed it in, I graded and passed it back... but I can't identify who anymore because all the work is passed back. When I'm grading an assignment in bulk, I can see who's cheating, a bigger issue to me than whether a kid hands in his work on time.

3) If my major goal is to measure growth of skills, it doesn't matter when it gets handed in, as long as it does. If I don't want copying of assignments, I need to do more quick on-the-spot assessments, or my assignments have to be more higher order and more personal.

4) If my major goal (in addition) is to help a student grow as a person and learn good planning skills, I should be teaching more emphatically about time management, goal setting, and personal balance. Otherwise, having something on time or not doesn't make a lick of difference to the kids - they don't have the skills (or probably mental development and maturity) and get it. Many schools have a 9th grade transition class or AVID just for this reason, but not enough IMHO.

5) I know a ton of people in the real world. In a fit of frustration, I took a poll of about 10 of them one week. I asked them, when given a assignment at work, how long do they have to do it, how do they go about getting it done, and what happens if it doesn't get done on time? 9/10 said that if an assignment doesn't get done on time, there might be some shouting or long nights - hardly a deterrant, they said - but then the deadline just gets moved back another day or two in most situations. One guy said there's a difference: if you're making a presentation to someone who came into town for the day just for your assignment, then you pull an all-nighter. My question is, is this lack of discipline with due dates in the workplace a result of our school system and its late policies, or are our late polilcies getting lax because of the attitude in the work force?

Sorry to be winded.

At 9:38 PM , Blogger Mrs Simpson said...

I just found your blog tonight, and I am enjoying reading your thoughts. I would like to add my 2 cents to the late work debate.

I have been teaching math for 17 years. Math homework is assigned practically every night, and it is a monumental task to grade. I accepted late work the first few years of teaching, and I found myself getting further and further behind. At the end of my third year, I spent about 6 hours one day grading only late assignments. I promised myself I would never do that again. It is much easier to grade 30 of the same paper than 30 different papers.

The following year I went to a no-late-work policy. I was surprised to see that my homework grades went up! When I accepted late work, the students would procrastinate and leave more than they could finish by the end of the grading period. When I didn't accept late work, students would move into high gear once they knew they had a couple of zeroes and do all of the rest of their work.

This past year I changed my policy slightly to match the other 7th grade math teacher at my school. Students began procrastinating again, and I was once again overwhelmed by late work. Their test scores were also affected when they waited until after the test to do the accompanying work. I switched back to my old policy at the end of the year, and I will never change it again!

I do have one exception...If there is some type of emergency or illness that prevents a child from having time to do their work, I will accept late work if accompanied by a note from a parent. I probably get 3 or 4 of these notes per year. I save the notes and warn the children I will thank their parents for writing the notes if I ever have a conference with them. I will also call to see if there is any way the school can help if there has been a rash of deaths in the family. This has eliminated forgeries. When I explain this policy to parents, they seem to appreciate the opportunity for their child to learn to meet deadlines and do their work when it is most beneficial to their learning.

If I were teaching a subject in which I did not make 40 assignments per grading period, I would probably have a different philosophy. One zero in my class will not hurt a child's grade much at all. All of my assignment are weighted equally. I am planning to assign projects each grading period this year, and I will probably accept them late.

At 6:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach physics, which most kids find difficult. Often, when homework is assigned, students go home and discover that they don't understand it well enough to do the work. I don't allow late work BUT I do allow students to come to after school tutorials to make up homework grades.

I use a computerized homework service so if students do their work on time, they have to enter only the answers online for their grade. If they come to tutorials, they must show me every scrap of work they did to answer the problem. They are only allowed one week (2 tutoring sessions) to make up the grade and they can only make it up for a 90, not a 100. Even students who fail a homework assignment can make them up.

It is all about the learning as far as I'm concerned so homework isn't even a large portion of the grade. Far more weight is placed on quizzes, tests, and lab reports.

What I hate to see is when a good kid who usually turns work in is penalized for one mistake. My son is an example. He left one assignment in his locker and his teacher wouldn't let him go get it. She let him sit out in the hall and do another one, but he didn't have time to finish it all so he made a bad grade. That ONE assignment dropped his grade by 5 points. It seems harsh to me, especially since the teacher doesn't even have a published late work policy.


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