Tuesday, May 23, 2006

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.


At 2:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a tough issue. I read an article about a Social Studies teacher who graded assignments in several areas. He looked at analysis (or other higher order thinking skills demonstrated), writing skills, and work habits. He described a student who turned in an assignment late, receiving an A in analysis, because he really knew his stuff, a C in writing skills, and an F in work habits. That's one option. It could even be incorporated into the rubric if it is a common problem. I am thinking of making work habits worth 10% of my students' grade next fall -- turning things in on time, tardiness/absenteeism (we have a student who gets his mom to excuse his absences each time there is a test), participation, organization and completion of notebook assignments that I won't grade -- that sort of thing.

At 2:35 PM , Blogger Mr.D AKA the History Dude said...

Every kid that failed my class for the semester did so because they failed to turn in assignments. Most were easy, but they refused to do the work. Our school does not have a policy in regards to late work, it is left up the the teachers discretion. Needless to say, my failure rate is high and would be even higher if I did not accept it. Hopefully, next year I will come up with a better plan.

At 2:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only is late work given a zero, but incomplete work receives a zero as well. I teach chemistry. I have a ton of classwork everyday and homework due everyday. All students who miss assignments get an automatically weekly generated letter (I love mail merge!) that is then sent by the school to the home address of the student detailing the lapse. Due to the large volume of work, as few missed assignments will not hurt too badly. But, a student who makes a habit of doing nothing will be completely overwhelmed and discovers that they have failed the class one third of the way through the marking period.

When a parent demands makeup work I refuse. They then go to the administrator for assistance. We have a meeting. The administrator tells me to provide the work. I hand over website with the full work available and then ask the administrator,"When is the work due?" The administrator then asks me when do I think it should be due. I say,"Since you have determined that you do not like my policies for student classroom performance, YOU will make that decision."

You can imagine the anger the admin gets at this moment. They usually say that this is a decision I am supposed to make. I make it clear that,"Since you have over-ruled my policies in front of the parent and thus have determined my policies to be unsatidfactory, YOU WILL make that decision and all decisions in regards to such issues."

The admin comes up with something and then, when the parent leaves, we have a talk. I tell the admin to remember that I am the union rep for the building and there is no such thing as a private talk on issues of policy. Our talk will be written up and put in every mailbox in that school as is the union's right. We go round and round over this all the time.

Try it. It's fun!
Oh, BTW, this is the opposite of insubordination. The 'worker' is demanding 'instruction' from the 'boss' that the 'worker' says they will follow. Having gone through this twice this year with our new admin team, when the entire staff is notified of the new 'policy', the fit hits the shan. Oh...and the student is transfered to another teacher.

At 7:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To miller smith:
Your behavior as described is unprofessional and disgraceful. You are abusing the hard won rights given to you by your union, and selfishly undermining your unions reputation in your district.


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