Home » High School » Late Work: The Thorn in My Side

Late Work: The Thorn in My Side

****Addendum added at the end of the original post*****
In my thirteenth year of teaching, there is one thing that has NEVER changed about me: I hate late work. Before I go any further, let me share my definition of late work. In my mind, “late work” is any assignment or project for which a student was present in the classroom when assigned or worked on, and s/he just doesn’t do it. This would also apply to work that a student worked on in class, took home to complete, and did not complete as homework. And, of course, any pure homework assignment that is not completed for the next day’s class. Now that the definition is clear, let me continue. I ABHOR late work. I cannot stand spending part of my instruction time arguing with a student about an assignment that has already been completed that she wants me to accept and give her credit for. I also cannot stand spending planning and/or grading time on single copies of multiple pieces of work that I already scored days (or sometimes weeks) ago.

But in every district I have worked in, the Powers That Be have declared that late work WILL BE ACCEPTED. In one district, I was even required to give students full credit for “correct” work no matter when it was handed in, meaning that even if an assignment was weeks late, if the student did it correctly she could receive 100% of the points. In my present district, I am not allowed to give any student a score below a 60% regardless of what he scores. This is intended to mitigate the crippling impact a 34% average has on a student’s chances of passing the semester if they fail the quarter. While I understand the intention behind this reasoning, I do not agree. This is cheating. This is grade inflation at its most blatant. This is just plain WRONG.

What are we teaching our students?! They are NOT learning the basics of written and spoken communication, basic math and science skills to help them through life, or historical context to inform the future. I’ll tell you what we’re teaching them. We’re teaching them:
*deadlines don’t matter
*dedication to learning is optional
*responsibility is negotiable
*building complexity through linear progression of skills isn’t important
*personal interests & fun can be a higher priority than academic responsibilities with no consequences
*the grade is more important than learning the skill

More and more, I see administrators lowering expectations. And, in my 13-years-3-districts-5-principals experience, it is getting worse every year. Public education was designed to give all students a level playing field and the OPPORTUNITY for success. By allowing students to turn in work regardless of due dates, we are GUARANTEEING that every student will succeed in school even if she doesn’t have the skills to succeed in the real world. A student who is consistently late with assignments, half-asses the work, has an excuse for every missing or incomplete paper, and puts little to no effort into work that is completed, will NOT be successful in the real world. As an ad exec, if the presentation for the client isn’t complete the day of the meeting, you get fired. As a musician, if you don’t show up for the studio session, you lose the contract. As a professional athlete, if you skip practice, you don’t get to play and may even be dismissed from the team. It’s not just an academic expectation that work be completed fully and on time. This is a real world expectation and by allowing students to skirt this responsibility, we are NOT preparing them for reality.

How many students fail out of college during their freshman year for not going to class and not completing assignments? Did they just start this behavior? No-for most, it is a learned pattern of behavior from middle school and high school. I don’t see this happening in elementary school. If my 3rd grader doesn’t finish her morning work, she stays in at recess until she gets it done. If she doesn’t finish her math worksheet, she has to bring it home. When does this stop being the norm? When are we going to say enough is enough and hold students accountable in the classroom? This culture of shirking responsibility has bled into the national education culture as well. Think about it: who is called to account if a student doesn’t pass a state test? Is it the student? Is he asked why he didn’t master the concepts? Is he asked why he slept through the 2nd half of the test? Is he made to document the amount of time he spent preparing for the exam? No. The school is deemed inadequate, the student is promoted, and, in some cases, even given the opportunity to change schools.

I contend that the root of these issues is fear. Fear of parents’ gossip-mongering and litigation. That’s it. We are not afraid of failing students – look at all the students who do fail every year. What is different about these students? Usually, their parents aren’t involved with the child or with the school. Their parents don’t threaten to pull PTA support or accuse the school of inequitable treatment based on race, gender, or ability. Sometimes, these parents simply accept the fact that their student didn’t put in the work to pass rather than assuming it is someone else’s fault.

As a profession, educators are demonized as the root of the failing American education system but is anyone paying attention to the students? The students have to be held accountable for putting in the effort to earn the grade. Yes, public schools and parents are doing students a disservice, but ONLY by allowing them to skate past requirements without consequences instead of teaching them the hard lessons while they are children. We need to prepare them to be hard-working, dedicated adults who follow through on their commitments. We need to hold their feet to the fire and REQUIRE they meet our expectations on time and in full. We need to stop being afraid and start teaching students bravery and dedication by example. We need to TEACH.

******You folks have all gotten me thinking which, of course, is the best way to tackle this issue. In thinking about this even more analytically, I believe my real frustration is that it’s hard for me to know what my students are learning and internalizing when I don’t get many assignments from them. It’s difficult to have a conversation with a student about his understanding of a concept when I have no evidence either way. I teach in a high poverty school with a diverse demographic. Many students are only in school because they have to be. I probably have 75% of my students who complete the majority of the work and we have worthwhile conversations about their learning. It’s the other 25% who desperately need this dialogue but who refuse to take part that are so frustrating. The late work frustrates me because I don’t truly believe they are learning anything when they complete 3 weeks worth of work in 2 days at the end of the quarter so that they will pass. Perhaps outlawing late work isn’t the best answer but if they know they can’t do it later, that might make more of them do it now.

I’m frustrated with the assumption that because I want my students to meet my due dates, that indicates that I am not a thoughtful, engaging, or caring teacher. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and knowing more about their learning than just what’s on the papers I score or comment on. I do take time to assess their learning and not just grade worksheets. I conference with them about their writing and we write back and forth to one another in dialectic journals about the reading. The implication in many of your comments is that my teaching must be uninteresting and not engaging if so many students are not completing the work, but how many teachers can say they have 100% of their students engaged and 100% of their students completing all assignments? Not many.

I so appreciate the comments and dialogue that has begun around this issue. I’m really glad that we can have differing opinions and continue to move the conversation toward what is best for the students.*****

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Late Work: The Thorn in My Side

  1. This is my 18th year of teaching. I, too, don’t particularly like bothering students for late work, or re-grading work that was incomplete. However, I will keep this practice in place. As of just last year, I take late work, and give full credit. My mind-shift helped actually me be prepared when our school suddenly started a “homework round-up” this year, where all teachers type in a GoogleDoc what students are missing work (classwork or homework or incomplete work). Any students that have 3 or more missing assignments across their classes (I teach 7th grade) have to either turn them in on Monday morning, or come in to homework round-up to work on them during lunch until they are finished.

    What’s the message to students? NOT doing work is NOT accepted. We accept the late work, and grade it as if it was on time. In this way, we are grading them on their skill, not on their habits. When we move to standards-based grading, habits will be reflected in the grade. Until then, our grades are reflecting progress towards learning the content, not whether that student has supportive parents at home, a sibling with emotional disorders, or a job to help out the family.

    I also believe that if we are giving classwork or homework, it should be valuable. If it is not valuable, then don’t give it. If we believe it is valuable, then students need to be doing it, and doing it completely. I’d much rather have well-done work turned in two weeks late than “half-ass” work as you call it turned in on time or not at all.

    What encouraged me last year to change my thinking? Rick Wormelli. Please check out these posts that lead to and explain some of his research.
    1. http://kenc.edublogs.org/2012/11/14/bill-murray-patron-saint-of-re-dos-and-re-takes/
    2. http://iamateacher-thisismyjourney.blogspot.com/2012/08/redos.html

  2. Wow, you really have a lot of hay on the fork with this post, and with so much passion. Thanks for sharing. I love being challenged in my thinking, and you have challenged me. I am inspired by your post to be more disciplined in the recording of assignments. I am so far on the other side of teaching from you, that I don’t always know right away that someone’s assignment is not in on time. That needs to change, then I can conference right away with a student and see how I can help.

    You would probably hate teaching beside me! I’ll just share some of my random thoughts on the topic.

    I gladly take late work for full credit. What really are the options? Don’t take late work? Wouldn’t that make students not complete it? Another option would be to accept the late work for half or even 60% credit, and the student could still fail the course.

    What do you think about getting rid of grading altogether? That’s been my hope for the last couple of years. I would love to just assess the learning students are doing and not have to give them a subjective grade. I’m working on developing standards based grading this year, but I have more questions than answers so far.

    Like Joy, I try to give valuable work with lots of choices so I can appeal to students’ best learning methods and hopefully they will want to complete the work. The only consistent homework I give is 30 minutes of daily reading–100% their choice. Occasionally I ask a slower student to finish up an assignment at home.

    Joy introduced Rick Wormell to me too. I like how he explains that the hard and fast deadlines teachers inflect on young students are not at all what we experience in real-life as adults. When I forget to complete an assignment for a professional development meeting, I am not fired, flunked, or even chastised in front of the other teachers. I am allowed to turn it in late. When I pay my taxes late, I am charged a small fee because they want to keep me solvent and continuing to pay taxes. If I am buying a house, and I forget to sign one of the documents, I don’t forfeit my house, I just go back to the bank and sign the “late” paper.

    And here’s a real-life example for me this year. I received a grant for a FIRST Lego League competitionand Mindstorms system. The Legos came, and we learned how to use them and went to a competition. I then found out I had neglected to turn in the Memorandum of Agreement by the deadline. You know what? They did not make me give back my Legos and banish us from further competition. They let me turn it in late. I think real life is much more gracious than many teachers are toward their students.

    I can agree with your last sentence. “We need to TEACH.” However, I’m not sure I agree with you about what teaching is. You say, “We need to hold their feet to the fire and REQUIRE they meet our expectations on time and in full. We need to stop being afraid and start teaching students bravery and dedication by example.”

    Yikes! I want to teach my students to be passionate lifelong learners, so I stand alongside them and, by being the chief learner in my classroom, I hope I teach them by example.

    Thanks for letting me comment,
    Denise

    • These comments make me think. I want to have an open discussion but it’s hard not to take comments about engagement or goals of creating life-long learners personally. It seems to imply I don’t value those things. Leaving my ego at the door, I wonder if maybe the issue is grading altogether. What purpose does it serve to assign a numeric value to learning? If only teachers had more power to shape the confines in which we have to function.

      • I agree completely with you Denise and Joy! School deadlines imposed by some teachers do not reflect all real life situations. More student choice, conferences, and portfolio demonstrations of learning is where education is going. It may be further away in some countries, states, provinces, citities, districts, etc., but I am fortunate I work in an area where we are starting to see some light in the tunnel. We can’t see the end of the tunnel yet, but we are moving in the right drection.

        Yabrookbridges, agree with you on your point on numerical values in assessing student learning. I do appreciate your post because it has had me reflect on my own perspective. I to agree with Denise that if you worked beside me I would frustrate you because our “deadlines” are often rough ones. I care more about what they can show & tell me about their learning & the growth they have experienced than if they can get something in on time.

        Grading is the problem & should disappear sooner than later. What does 80% look like anyway? What does it mean to the student? Therefore it comes back to us to help guide students to create meaningful learning experiences for themselves & guide them in establishing their own assessment models. Again this might be easier in some areas of Canada & the US than in others but it is our responsibility as educators to demonstrate to the uninformed (people who are not educators) that the focus on learning should be the center of all decisions in education & not whether a student’s excuse for not having something in on time. Some are valid & some not so valid. Are we going to give a student a zero for an assignment for their learning when it is not their learning that is the problem? Poverty, mental health, work habits, family, etc… these are all real issues students face everyday. It may not be as prevalent in some but it is overwhelming in others.

        If your concern is about students & deadlines then involve them in the process. Engage them in the process. Engage them to create projects, criteria, meaningful rubrics, & help them establish deadlines. My belief is the voices (blogs, videos, & other visual demonstrations of learning) of students in our classes showing the why & how behind their learning will transform learning from quantitative external evaluations to students understanding their own learning in deep & personal demonstrations.

        Assessment for learning is a must! Will it be quick? No! Will it be messy? Yes! Will it ensure 100% of your students handing everything in on time? No… but they will be more concerned about their learning & more likely to hand something in on time because they were expected to lend their voice.

        We as a collective must look at our practice more critically to figure out ways to meet the needs of all he learners in our classes. This includes students who struggle with deadlines for a variety of reasons. Thank you for sharing!

        Hugh

      • Yes, thank you for the follow-up, and I’m sorry for my ego too.

        I do really think it is about grading! If students could get to the point where they don’t have to care about grades anymore, would they start seeing a different goal? I don’t agree with your whole list of things we teach kids when we accept late work, but I agree we certainly do teach *the grade is more important than learning the skill.” We see the effects of that through high school and colleges too.

        I teach grades 7/8, so I have a bit more freedom with the way I grade than I would if I were in our high school. I hope it changes soon. Have you read any posts by others about the moratorium on grading? Check out Joe Bower’s blog “For the Love of Learning.”

        Thanks,
        Denise

        By the way, I meant deadlines we inflict on students.

  3. A can of worms,

    I didn’t find this until a bit later than the others. Sorry.

    I have to agree mostly with both Joy and Denise. I teach both 7th and 8th grade and have taught writing as part of a writing workshop for what will be my 7th year this year. I have been willing to accept “late” work as long as I have taught, though there are deadlines as well. I put deadlines out and most students meet them. Some don’t. For a variety or reasons. Some of those reason are legitimate, just as in the “real” world and some are not. Still, it is the work I wish to grade/assess to look for advancement or concept acquisition.

    I agree that the work needs to have value in order to gain a vested interest on the part of the student. Coming to teaching a bit later than the “average” teacher, I am very familiar to the “real” world. I worked as a carpenter and in a variety of other capacities before coming to teaching. I had to do all kinds of things in the “real” world that did not inspire me at all and therefore only received a fraction of what I could have put forth for total effort. I was never fired or otherwise disciplined by any employer for anything. Quite the opposite, I was often complimented for my discipline and hard work, even when I knew I could put much more into stocking the shelves or serving the pizza, or cleaning up the warehouse if I wanted to. Not until I worked for myself, as a self-employed carpenter, did I truly feel invested in the “work” I was performing enough to do my best job, because it literally reflected directly on me.

    Grading, like managing other humans, is very subjective, especially where writing is concerned, even with a rubric. Thus, as a manager, I try to do it as fairly as possible. I grade what I have. When my deadlines come along at the midterms, quarters, and semesters, I have to put numbers into our program for reports to be sent out. If I do not have something that was due, then I may put a grade in to reflect its absence. I try not to make that grade a zero, unless I know that the student has done nothing with it. I think that zeros are killer zeros often, because of the negative effect they can have on a student’s grade. It can be impossible to recover from a grade like that. I, being a manager, assess the amount of effort the student has made toward completing the assignment. I will often give a percentage near 40% for an assignment that I may not have received.

    Is this wrong? I think not, but am well aware that others may disagree. I know that in the “real” world I live in I am not only “assessed” on finished work but on work-in-progress as well. As a carpenter, I did not always finish a job at the exact time I estimated completing it. I was not negatively “assessed” if the job was finished well as long as I was not “too late.” The amount of time that might qualify as “too late” was not a concrete thing. It varied with each customer. That is the “real” world that I come from.

    I think the whole topic is an interesting one. I know that I am often frustrated by pieces of writing that I do not have from students on time. I also know that the “real” world, too is fulled with so many if’s, ands, and/or buts, that there is never any concrete set of motions to follow to achieve the perfect piece of writing, turned in on time, or the best way to deal with all the “human” variables involved in staffing a hardware store with courteous and well trained employees on any given day without fail.

    I try to teach children that the “real” world does have consequences, they vary greatly, and students need to be able to think critically about their responses in order to decide on the best course of action. That may mean turning in an assignment that is not complete a day late, so that they can put their minds to the next assignment more completely.

    Like “real” life, there is no easy answer, only a better one. I think that teaching the idea of working hard to complete meaningful tasks is important, but it is also messy, very messy!

    Thanks for the conversation starter,

    Scott

  4. I teach elementary school and there are times too when I get frustrated about late assignments…but I remind myself that I am marking the work and not the behaviour. I don’t believe in taking off marks anymore (I used to), instead I build relationships with my repeat offend ors and chat with them about the lateness (reasons, etc).

    To be honest, I don’t always get things back the next day (or second or third) sometimes either…sometimes life happens…and really if I am not always timely, can I really expect them to be?

    I do understand your frustration though…and when reporting, I comment about work habits, but I don’t let it change their grades. I think (as the above commenters have stated) we have to really question the point of grades in the first place…do we really need them in elementary school?

    And we certainly have to engage in meaningful discussions around work ethic. But I still don’t think I believe in taking off marks. You never know what a child’s home-life is like, what the other factors are, etc.

    Please don’t take these comments personally…I think you have started a great conversation and with most things in life..it isn’t always black and white…this is probably a gray area topic for most educators.

  5. I so understand your frustrations; a teacher’s time is so valuable, and we don’t have enough of it. And yet, I’m an adult, and my students are kids. I need them to learn the concept and process goals. That is what is most important, and I need to support them in this, and not punish them because of their situation or habits.

    What I do guide them in, is organization — of work and schedules, expecting them to monitor themselves, but with guidance, just like the reminders from my boss or the IRS. I don’t need their excuses, either, just a request for more time or alternative assignments. I do believe that the goals we set for students can be accomplished in many ways, so my students also do not always have the same assignment. Since I offer feedback during the assignment, I can ask, “How will you show me you understand and can apply this goal?” I know this is also a real world skill because I’ve been in the construction business; how wonderful for an employee to find a better way to get the job done, even if it is different that my way. It’s much better to work together to reach a goal, and with the infusion of technology, personalization will be a key component of teaching and learning.

    As I said, it’s the concepts and processes that are required, and to which they work and we assess together. I don’t punish them for their poor habits; I help them develop better ones, and find ways to show their learning.

    My time is valuable, as yours is, so most of my class time is “seeing” and watching what work is done daily. That means students receive feedback and adjustments during the week, and I know the work well before the final assessment. Perhaps a shift in the number of and in how the assignments are given and in what they require will allow time in class for feedback and assessment. I engage in more applied practice than in grading, so students have the opportunity for feedback and success. You may find insights here: http://www.edutopia.org/grading-dilemma-strategies-tactics

    I hope this offers some alternatives, because you obviously care about your students’ learning. I look forward to your reflection and ideas; many others feel the same frustrations.

  6. Reblogged this on Today is a Great Day for Learning and commented:
    My response to this blog post. What do you think? It really got me thinking.

    I agree completely with you Denise and Joy! School deadlines imposed by some teachers do not reflect all real life situations. More student choice, conferences, and portfolio demonstrations of learning is where education is going. It may be further away in some countries, states, provinces, citities, districts, etc., but I am fortunate I work in an area where we are starting to see some light in the tunnel. We can’t see the end of the tunnel yet, but we are moving in the right drection.

    Yabrookbridges, agree with you on your point on numerical values in assessing student learning. I do appreciate your post because it has had me reflect on my own perspective. I to agree with Denise that if you worked beside me I would frustrate you because our “deadlines” are often rough ones. I care more about what they can show & tell me about their learning & the growth they have experienced than if they can get something in on time.

    Grading is the problem & should disappear sooner than later. What does 80% look like anyway? What does it mean to the student? Therefore it comes back to us to help guide students to create meaningful learning experiences for themselves & guide them in establishing their own assessment models. Again this might be easier in some areas of Canada & the US than in others but it is our responsibility as educators to demonstrate to the uninformed (people who are not educators) that the focus on learning should be the center of all decisions in education & not whether a student’s excuse for not having something in on time. Some are valid & some not so valid. Are we going to give a student a zero for an assignment for their learning when it is not their learning that is the problem? Poverty, mental health, work habits, family, etc… these are all real issues students face everyday. It may not be as prevalent in some but it is overwhelming in others.

    If your concern is about students & deadlines then involve them in the process. Engage them in the process. Engage them to create projects, criteria, meaningful rubrics, & help them establish deadlines. My belief is the voices (blogs, videos, & other visual demonstrations of learning) of students in our classes showing the why & how behind their learning will transform learning from quantitative external evaluations to students understanding their own learning in deep & personal demonstrations.

    Assessment for learning is a must! Will it be quick? No! Will it be messy? Yes! Will it ensure 100% of your students handing everything in on time? No… but they will be more concerned about their learning & more likely to hand something in on time because they were expected to lend their voice.

    We as a collective must look at our practice more critically to figure out ways to meet the needs of all he learners in our classes. This includes students who struggle with deadlines for a variety of reasons. Thank you for sharing!

    Hugh

  7. Wow! Who knew this post would spark so much conversation?! The bottom line, like you said, is to create “conversation toward what is best for the students.” As long as educators around the world are working toward this goal, we are on the right track. Thanks for the conversation!

  8. The bad and the ugly part about assessment is, in fact, that we, as teachers, must provide some sort of a measuring stick for students to grasp, to see, to feel in their brains if it fits who they think they are. I, like Hugh, teach upper elementary (gr. 6/7) and I’ve also taught for 12-13 years. My assessment has simplified, because my life became complicated…this might strike some as contentious but hey, as a middle income earner in a very expensive world, as a full time teacher and full time mom of 2 myself, I need to sometimes just get’er done. What do I use? The number 20. For everything when possible, (except in Math…) Unless there’s a kick butt rubric or performance standard that’s better than my system, or it’s a doozy assignment, then it’s out of 50.

    Did your spelling/grammar this week and corrected it when we marked it? 20. Wrote your story and added sensory details, but didn’t explain how the character died? 18. Lost your story, dog ate it, went to Aruba on mom’s business trip? Tell me about what you would have written…okay, 15. Why did you hand in your Social Studies chapter questions only half done? 10. Don’t you want 20? Here, add to your answers, I’ll bump ya up. So I provide a measuring stick, and it’s up for students to decide what they earn. I also hate chasing students for work, so I occasionally give students a chance to verbalize what they learned, but their number can’t be as high as someone who thoughtfully took the time to write it down and carefully edited it. My deadlines are very flexible…I usually make a soft deadline on Friday, and students who care deeply about putting extra effort or who fooled around all week will come up and ask for the weekend and I always reply yes.

    I learned a long time ago it wasn’t worth chasing students for the small stuff I assign, so I prioritize which 20s I use to base my grade on. I also try to make 20 very achievable, so everyone can feel that pride at least once or twice. I hate giving zeros, so I pull kids up and open up my mark book and show them their zeros and encourage them to fill them with any number over 10, just by locating whatever 1/2 completed chewed on, crumpled loose paper they’ve shoved in their desk. It generally works.

    I didn’t always have such a cut and dry system, and my completion rate was much less. We have highly involved but very busy parents at my school, so they appreciate the cut and dry. The fact is, some of my lowest achieving students are purposely praised for every 20 they earn, and their parents always email me, or catch me later for 30 seconds to talk about how much their son/daughter was proud of their 20.

    I have been worried that the kids would get fixated on the number, but then I realized, they’re already fixated on the report card grade anyways. Once they all realize they can all get 15-20s most of the time, it helps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s