Why I Decided to Accept Late Work

This post is highly related to my thoughts on why I stopped assigning homework – or better, really, why I changed my outlook on homework assignments. That being said, this post can be read in isolation from the homework post series.

I used to not accept late work. I think my first 2 years for sure, and probably my third year, too. But my third year was the year I lost my job in part because I had too many failing students and many of them came from families who did not like to have failing (or in some cases, C or D) students. I had to re-evaluate my philosophy on late work.

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So I did. I decided that in order to help students raise their grades if they were interested, I would accept their late work with many restrictions. Each day the work was late, students would receive only partial credit. Each additional day would result in less and less credit. I think I capped the late work submissions at either 3 or 5 days late, and then I would not accept the work.

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Holy frickin’ cow was that a lot of work for me. First I had to remember how many days late the student was turning the assignment in. Good luck with that, since students turned work into a tray and never put dates on their work, so it might be the next day before I saw it and had no idea when they turned it in. Then I had to do the math for how much credit to give. Would have been easy if the kid earned 100%, right? 1 day late? You get 90%, 2 days you get 80%, and 3 days, you get 70%. But ohmygosh no. The kid earned 62.5%, so now I have to figure out 80% of 62.5% and put it in the system. Since most of my work was worth like, 10-15 points, kids were getting like, 3 or 4 points by the time I was done. When I could figure out when the heck they turned it in. It was SO not successful. SUCH a bad idea.

But what else could I do? Accept late work the whole quarter? What kind of teacher would I be if I just let kids turn in their work whenever they wanted? Wouldn’t I foster and enable irresponsibility? Wouldn’t I perpetuate the problem of not doing work on time? Wouldn’t I suddenly get entire classes of kids not doing their work and suddenly giving me every single assignment from the quarter on the very last day? OH. MY. GOSH. How could I entertain such a notion?

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Well, I decided to give it a try because really, the worst that could happen would be that it didn’t work and the next quarter I’d revamp my policy. So I set up some very basic ground rules. Work that was not turned in when I collected it was late. No ifs, ands, or buts. This was true for classwork and homework (I rarely – if ever – assigned homework in many of my classes, so this distinction that work was work is important). If I collected it and it wasn’t ready to be turned in (I usually would count down from 5) it was considered late.

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Side note: This tip doesn’t warrant its own post, but I used to have lots of kids claim they turned work in on time and I had just lost it. I couldn’t prove them wrong, so I had to accept their re-work for full credit. To stop these shenanigans, I began stapling student work together. I’d count down from 5 with a stapler in my hand and say that anyone whose paper wasn’t in the stapled pile would be considered late. I never had another issue again.

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If a student wanted to turn in late work, I would accept it for half credit. Blanket rule. Half credit. 50%. Done.

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I would accept late work up until the last Friday before the end of the quarter. This gave me a full week, at least, to grade the late work so I wasn’t staying up all night the day before grades were due.

The only kids who failed my class were kids who didn’t turn in all their work. Really. I am dead serious. Not kids who did all their work on time. Not kids who got A’s on all their work. Not kids who passed all their tests. Any kid who turned in every assignment at any point during the quarter passed my class. This. Was. Groundbreaking. It was ammunition. It was fuel. Failing kid? Angry parent? Angry administrator? Did the kid do their work? Not my problem. Every other kid who turned in their work passed the class. End of story. Can he still turn it in? When does the quarter end? If it’s before the next Friday, then yes, he can turn it in. All of it. Let me tell you how fast that shut people up.

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I was a revolutionary. A visionary in my field.

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And I didn’t end up with piles and piles that last Friday before the end of the quarter. I found out that kids would normally turn their late work in within about a week or so. It ended up being much more of a trickle effect than a flood. I’d have one or two kids that would do all their missing work the last week and hand it to me, but that was manageable. I never had a kid who was missing ALL his work and then tried to turn it in. I found out that the kids who did absolutely nothing weren’t going to do it late any more than they were going to do it on time. And those were the kids who failed.

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Side note #2: I also did not grade work with no name. I know some teachers do the “no-name pile” for kids to claim, but I didn’t play that game. No name = no grade. If you don’t care enough about your work to put your name on it, I don’t care enough to grade it. Or if your work’s not important enough for you to write your name on it, it’s not important enough for me to grade. I wasn’t nasty about it. I didn’t tear up no-name work into little pieces in front of the kid whose work it was and make them cry to instill a lesson upon the class at large. I just threw them away at home or during my prep when I was grading and never brought it up. When a kid looked at their grades and realized it was missing, they’d come tell me they did it and I’d tell them it must not have had their name on it. BUT DON’T WORRY! I’d reassure them, you can redo it for half credit. And I promise, if this is the only time it happens, it won’t affect your overall grade. Occasionally I’d get some tears, but I never had to defend it to a parent or an administrator, because the kid got it.

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Again, my decisions about late work were predicated on the assumption that the work I assigned was valuable. I wanted my students to write the essay. I wanted them to do the definitions. I wanted them to answer the questions. They needed the practice. I needed the assessment to see their achievement. The work needed to be done. It wasn’t busy work. It wasn’t useless. It had a purpose. So if they didn’t do it on time, I wanted them to still do it for the intrinsic value of the work itself. So I gave them half credit for it. The percentage of my students doing their work throughout the quarter rose drastically. So did their grades. So did their learning. So did their achievement. So did their self-concept and self-esteem, because I had kids who were career failures suddenly passing a class.

I hope this post has made you think about the value of the work you assign and your own late work policy. What are your thoughts on my policy? What is your policy? Why do you have that policy?

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Newest Common Core Practice Resource

I am continuing to work on my Continuous Improvement Model (CIM) line of resources for Common Core ELA and have just finished the mini-lessons for CCSS.RI.6.4.

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If you’ve not had a chance to use any of my 6th-grade CIMs, here’s a little bit about this lesson and why you might want to use it in your classroom this year.

The CIM is the basic “I do,” “we do,” “you do” method of teaching. What’s important and unique to my resources is that the “I do” section, where the teacher models the process targets meta-cognition. The teacher’s modeling of the skill and application of concept takes students through the reasoning needed to find the correct answer. It is more than just an explanation of why the answer is correct: it literally is a running commentary of the thought process behind figuring out the correct answer. The “we do” mini-lesson helps teachers guide their students through figuring out the correct answers, and the “you do” mini-lesson has detailed explanations of the correct answers.

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Another important reason you should use this in your room is that is a NO PREP resource. That means you don’t have to do any of the front-end work. It comes with an answer key and all explanations. The only thing you need to do is read through it before you teach so you know what you’re going to say and can stay on point. You can print out student pages if you want, but you could just choose to display the questions and have students answer on loose-leaf paper. It’s a huge time saver.

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An additional great feature of this resource is that you can choose to use multiple-choice questions or extended-response (open-ended) questions. Some teachers prefer one over the other, so I’ve included both in the product to give teachers the option. The explanations are even tailored for the specific question types.

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In this CIM there are 10 total questions (“I do” has 3, “we do” has 2, and “you do” has 2). It’s enough to determine if students really “get” the concept but not overwhelming and exhaustive. It’s perfect for bell work (starters, etc.) or a quick end-of-period lesson if you need to fill up 10 minutes.

If you think this sounds like something you’d like to use in your classroom but you’re not sure you want to shell out the cash, you can check out my free version that targets RL.6.1 and then go from there.6th grade FCIM RL1 freebie

Why I Stopped Assigning Homework – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my series on Why I Stopped Assigning Homework. This will make more sense if you read part 1, but you might still get useful information and insight if you read this entry first.

In part 1, I discussed how I noticed a correlation between student demographic and homework completion. I met another teacher who changed how I looked at homework and late work. I knew I needed to make changes.

But I still faced another reality: demographics. I began to realize that no matter how much some of my students might want to complete their work and see the value in the assignment, their home lives simply didn’t allow them to do it – at least not consistently. What was I to do? Well, I stopped assigning homework. It was that simple. I took the assignments I would normally have assigned as homework and I had students do them in class. You might ask how on earth I was able to get through the necessary material if I was taking up class time with work other teachers would have assigned to be done at home. I think that’s sort of like asking a mother of triplets, “How do you do it?” You just do. Once you set parameters and boundaries for yourself, you learn to live within them. I streamlined my classroom management. No longer did I have five minutes to waste on attendance. No longer did I have five more to waste passing out or collecting papers. I figured out ways to delegate secretarial tasks to students and ways to make my “housekeeping” tasks more efficient. I found the instructional minutes I needed so students could do the practice they needed, but in class.

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I didn’t anticipate a side effect of this, which was to help with missing work due to absenteeism. Like it or not, demographics are related to absenteeism, too – for a variety of reasons. However, I found that because I started having my students do all their work in class that when they came back, all they had to do was the classwork we’d done from while they were out. They just worked on it in class until they caught up with the rest of us. I’ll have more on how I handled absent work in a later post, because it really takes a whole system to make this no-homework approach work.

My students’ achievement soared. Where once I had over 50% failing rates, I was now having only 3-5 failing students in a class. Did every student do every assignment? No, of course not. I had students who refused to work. I had students who refused to make up things they missed. I had students who refused (okay, “forgot,” “lost,” whatever) to turn things in. It wasn’t perfect, but no longer did I participate in the teacher discussions lamenting the incompletion of homework. When I would chime in that “I don’t assign homework,” I would get looks like I’d grown a third head. To each their own.

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The flip side of this were the high-aptitude, low-motivated students. Most of my bright/gifted students came from situations where homework was expected and capable of being completed. If I stopped assigning homework to these students, many parents would have pitched a fit. But I still had a problem. I had students who didn’t do their homework and I had to fight tooth and nail with the parents to get it done. Or the kid failed. At best, he would earn a grade well below his potential. So I had to focus on purpose. I had to focus on challenge. Here is where I began to differentiate my students’ work by product. I gave them more options to complete assignments (drawing, technology incorporation, etc.). I piqued their interest. I made the assignments interesting (I refuse to say “fun” because my job is not to make things “fun.” I tell my students that if you want to have fun, go to Disney. My job is to make learning meaningful, engaging, and purposeful. If you have fun, great, but that’s not my goal.) and the completion rate went up. Sure, I still had students who were obstinate and just plain old refused to do the work, but dealing with one or two kids in a class as opposed to eight or ten was a huge lifesaver.

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You might be wondering about the situations where I had the student from a low SES background in a class where the majority of students were from higher SES backgrounds. My school grouped (I won’t use “tracked” because that’s such a taboo word, right?) students by ability level. In middle school there were three groups: regular, advanced, and honors. In high school, there were regular and honors in 9th and 10th and then AP in 11th and 12th. You would be correct if you assumed that these groupings followed a demographic trend. “Regs” and most “Advanced” students came from lower SES backgrounds and “Honors” kids were almost exclusively from high SES backgrounds. Same with Reg vs. Honors/AP in high school. So yes, I did occasionally get a student or two whose background and home life did not support homework. But again, with my new system, this meant I was working with just one or two students in a class in this situation. And I had the authority to be flexible. We were usually able to make it work.

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I just had to keep it in perspective. Why was I assigning this? Did it matter where it was done? Could a student complete it in class if s/he had the time? If so, why did it matter where it was completed? If it had to be done outside the classroom due to necessary materials (research on the internet, art materials, etc.), what could I do to make sure that students who didn’t have the ability to do those things at home could get them done somehow at school.

It was about purpose. Once I began to look at homework in that light, things changed. I didn’t have to fight the weary battles. My low SES students didn’t have homework to complete and my high SES students were more motivated to complete the homework they did have because it was more purposeful. And I had less grading to do, too. It was a win-win.

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I hope this has made you think about your homework philosophy and how it benefits (or doesn’t) your students.

Why I Stopped Assigning Homework – Part 1

Okay, okay, you got me. I didn’t completely stop assigning homework, but over the years I changed my philosophy about homework and it made a real difference in my students’ achievement.

I used to assign homework every night. I began my teaching career as a math teacher. I assigned homework. What kind of math teacher would I be if I didn’t assign homework? I taught 7th grade pre-Algebra and 8th grade Algebra I Honors.

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Wellllll, here’s the thing. Most of my students didn’t do their homework. Ever. Even if I accepted it late. They didn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. Couldn’t do it. I didn’t know at first which one it was, or even if it was a combination of both. But the homework did not get done. And since I graded homework…you guessed it: my students were failing. It was doubly bad because they were getting 0’s on their homework and then they were failing their quizzes and tests because they weren’t getting the practice they needed from the homework. And since they didn’t do the homework, I couldn’t really do any sort of remediation or re-teaching because I didn’t know what they didn’t know. And they couldn’t ask useful questions because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. It was a mess. This went on for three years. At one point, I actually lost a teaching position in part because I couldn’t figure out how to get my passing rate up to an acceptable margin. My answer was: “They’re not doing their work!” But I had yet to figure out how to take that and make it NOT impact my employment.

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I began to notice patterns in homework completion (or lack thereof). There were two very important things that began to crystallize.

The first thing I noticed – politically incorrectly, I might add (probably, anyway) – was that there was a strong correlation between student homework completion and demographic. Students with low SES rarely completed their homework. No matter how much time I would give them, it just wouldn’t get done. They often were career failures and were on track to drop out at 16, enter the work force, and probably live on public assistance the rest of their lives. It wasn’t pretty.

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The second thing I noticed was that there was a strong correlation between student aptitude and homework completion. Very frequently, I noticed that students who were very capable but highly unmotivated chose not to complete their homework. With this population, if I called home enough and really made an effort, most of the time the parents would somehow manage to get some of the missing work completed and students who were capable of making straight A’s would scrape by with a C or a D.

What was I to do?

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I had to have a paradigm shift regarding homework. I honestly don’t remember where I was – some professional development thing, no doubt – and I met a veteran teacher (I only had a few years under my belt) who was explaining her view on homework. Now during my first few years of teaching I was vehemently against accepting late work and I would only do it begrudgingly in extreme circumstances. I was also a staunch advocate of assigning homework. But the teacher I met changed my views. I don’t think she even intended to; I remember it wasn’t a discussion about the merits or such of homework, but it was just part of a larger conversation that happened to feature her views on homework. I have to paraphrase her words because it’s been too long to remember them exactly, but essentially she asked, “What is the purpose of homework?” That really made me think. Why did I assign homework? What did I hope to accomplish with it? Was it just to have something to grade? Was it so students could practice a skill? Was it to punish? Was it to reward? Was it to enhance? Was it to enrich? What was its purpose? The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were many reasons that I assigned homework. She went on to explain that if she was assigning homework for the right reasons, she really wanted students to do it and would do whatever she could to ensure it would get done because of how valuable it was to the student.

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In that instant, I completely changed my outlook on accepting late work – but that will be elaborated in another post. But in the following moments, I also changed my outlook on assigning homework. I didn’t want to assign work that wasn’t meaningful. I didn’t want to assign homework because it was just what teachers did. I wanted to make sure my homework was purposeful. Was there a new skill students needed to practice? Did I need more points to incorporate into students’ grades? Was there an upcoming assessments for which students needed to review? I wanted to make sure that students would want to do their work because it meant something to them.

Next week’s post will conclude this series. Stay tuned!