Thursday, April 05, 2012


This is the final week of the third quarter and I'm busy grading exams and homework assignments, getting my grade book up to speed, and writing comments for every student that I teach.  It's all due next week and I treat the deadline as hard and fast because it is hard and fast.  Alas, my students aren't always convinced of this fact.

The grading and deadlines have me thinking about the work that I assign my students and the meaning and value of those assignments.  I make it a point never to assign what I call "busy work" ----- assignments that I won't read and comment upon for the student who did the work.  This has been my policy as long as I've been in the classroom.  So a student working with me can be confident that I feel my assignments have meaning and value.  All of them are targeted to prepare students for tests and assignments in my class and also to guide them toward the skills and work habits required for success in college and life.

To that end, my assignments have due dates and are handed out at least a week in advance of the due date so that the student can plan to organize his or her time accordingly.  Homework handed in on time receives full credit for effort.  This is my way of rewarding the establishment of good work habits.    But the assignments are about more than a due date.  I place so much value on the assignments that I even accept late work for partial credit because the work is part of the preparation.

Students who submit too much late work are reminded that this isn't a functional habit for school or the work world beyond.   Despite the occasional request, I never offer extra credit because, as I explain to my classes, the real world sometimes rewards hard work but rarely offers extra credit.  And then I explain:  if you're a physician who flubs the job, your patient is sicker or dead and no amount of extra credit can fix that.  If you're an aeronautical engineer whose design is flawed, the airplane doesn't fly.  And if I don't get my grades submitted on time, my boss doesn't tell me not to sweat it.  He tells me I won't receive a contract for next year.

I sometimes fear that this message is lost on my students; that it feels hopelessly old-fashioned or that I am out of touch with the world outside of education.  This quarter in particular, the late work has really piled up.  In order to get my work completed on time, I had to establish a deadline for student submission of late work.  Even then, some students failed to comply.  It's just a few students out of my 75, but it's a persistent issue for me and will be a problem for them when they head off to college.  I'm gearing up to award the tardy students zero points for the late work.  I fear that I'm more worried about this than they are.   But it's the only way I know to get work organized and completed and I truly believe that learning effective work habits is the least I can do to prepare my students for life outside of the cocoon of family and school.

Yet I still fret.  What is fair?  What is the purpose of my classes?  How should that be accomplished? How do I help my students to achieve the elusive goal of preparation?


Shelley said...

The goal of helping students develop their intrinsic motivation is a never-ending one, it seems. Like you, I sometimes work with students who I fear are ill-prepared to take on real-world challenges, and it does make me wonder... how will they fare outside the (usually much gentler) environment of school?

So many of the characteristics that I consider to be essential life skills fall "between the cracks" of disciplinary knowledge... it would be great to have recurring conversations, both as professionals, and amongst students, about our individual and collective definitions of success.

Shark Butt said...

The nuns punched us in the neck. Use what ya got.

Nichole said...

As a parent with a kid who consistently forgets to turn in homework I know he's completed, I say give them the zero. When kids don't have consequences, they don't value rewards. That's my feeling. :-)