Homework, Grading, Late Work, Oh My…

In the 17 years that I have been teaching, homework and late work policies have come up more than a time or two during staff meetings. Over that same period, I have never had the same school policies for more than five years at a time.

Homework, in particular, has always been a hot button topic in education. After decades of debate, you can still go on Twitter today and be part of chats around homework policy or engage in conversation with others about whether homework really makes much difference in learning.

These last few years, the teachers in our district adopted a set of policies for grades 5-8 that put us all on the same page. Our goal was to help students with their transition to middle school and “self management” – and to put an emphasis on the importance of studying for tests.

In addition, we hoped that students would also see that completing classwork and homework had importance too. Below is the late work policy that has been in place for the last two years, plus the grading categories we use.

As anyone can see, the late work policy is simple and to the point. However, the more I have been processing this, the more I have wondered if our policy truly benefits our students. And I’m not the only teacher who’s wondering. As we have shifted from a K-6/7-8 structure to having a middle school with grades 6-8, our whole staff has been pondering what changes might need to be made.

In particular, I’ve begun to wonder whether our late work policy makes sense for young middle school writers. If an adolescent student works for two weeks on an informational essay and doesn’t turn it in on the day it is due, is it fair for that student to lose 50% of an assignment that may be worth 35-40 points? Also, if a student is two days late, is it fair for them to lose all the credit for that assignment?

In my opinion, no student should lose points for being a few days late on a major assignment. If that assignment is worth fifty percent of their grade for the marking period, that makes it nearly impossible for them to recover from a failing grade.

I think something needs to change for the students in my 8th grade classes and for the students transitioning into the new middle school structure. I don’t see this as a step away from “rigor” but a step toward fairness.

Policies Galore

After a few discussions at staff meetings this fall, it was evident that we needed to make a change of some kind. It was at this point that I looked toward my online PLN. After consulting with several other educators on Twitter, I came to one conclusion – there isn’t a magic solution out there for homework and late work policies. The variety is amazing – policies where students can turn in assignments whenever, all the way to the other extreme where one day late means a big fat zero.

While consulting with these other educators, I took notes and went back to my staff and shared what I found. Prior to leaving for Winter Break, we decided that at the conclusion of our semester we would need a new approach. Furthermore, each teacher would have to come up with their own policy because there were just too many differences among us to devise an umbrella policy for the whole school. Those differences included grades being taught, subjects being taught, and individual teaching philosophies.

Organizing Language Arts

Now comes the heart of what I am trying to get to in this post. What should a Language Arts homework/grading policy look like for a middle school classroom?

I truly believe what needs to happen first is teaching students to study and help them to manage their time. One of the first ways I show my students how to use technology responsibly is show them the cross-platform myHomework App. With Homework App students can:

  1. Create their different classes
  2. Track their assignments with color coding and set reminders for due dates
  3. Use a calendar that can show due dates daily, weekly, and monthly
  4. Use it on their phone and on a computer.

The greatest thing about this application is that it is free for students to use (or ad-free for $5 a year). It can help students get and stay organized as long as they use it. I also offer paper planners and folders to help students if they prefer having something physical in their hands. Other available applications include My Study Life (with some “Brit speak”) or Pocket Schedule Planner.

What About a Policy?

These organization and scheduling tools are one way I get my students thinking about deadlines and time management. But I’m still left with the question of how to set up a homework policy specific to my Language Arts classroom. Do I accept late work for full credit? How do I weigh my tests, quizzes, and homework?

There is this struggle within me. I want to be a teacher who teaches my students responsibility, but then there’s this other side of me that wants to help students see the intrinsic value of education and to be lenient enough to keep the focus on learning and not just grades.

Education consultant Anthony Muhammad asked two very important questions when I saw him speak a few years ago. I leave you with his thoughts, and I am open to any suggestions and thoughts you might have, including any reading or viewing that might be helpful.

“What are we doing for our students instead of to our students?”

“Are we grading the students’ knowledge of the content or their behavior?”

Happy New Year, everyone!

___________________

PS: I’m already following up on one suggestion from my MiddleWeb editor – ordering Rick Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal (2nd Edition).

Jeremy Hyler

Jeremy Hyler is an English teacher at Fulton Middle School in Middleton, Michigan. He is also co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project and vice-president of The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG). Hyler has co-authored Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge, 2014) and From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age (Routledge, 2017) with Dr. Troy Hicks. Follow him @Jeremybballer

28 Responses

  1. Lauren says:

    Excellent points and pointers here. There is a marked lack of teaching organizational skills and habits. Kids are given planners but not taught how to use them. Thank you for this article!

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment Lauren. The most frustrating part to me with what you said is that there are then complaints about how students aren’t using them. We have to be diligent about showing them what that looks like and that includes parents too. It is a life skill after all. Again, thank you for your feedback.

    • Heather Strait says:

      Agreed, Lauren! I am going to propose a study skills course for next school year. Students (and adults) think they can remember to do all the things in their daily lives, but they don’t/can’t.

  2. Lane Walker says:

    What strategies we use to build student confidence and success in the short term need to be progressively modified as students progress through the grades so we don’t create a crisis later.

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment Lane. Yes, we are trying to prepare them for future grades and for life in general. Again, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

  3. Ray says:

    Your 2 quotes closing the article are spot on! I have developed my homework strategy as follows: Late homework is accepted for the entire grading period, with a 1-grade deduction for ANY late work. This seems fair to those who finish on time, as well as not crushing the grades of those who truly care.

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      Thank you Ray for your response. I will definitely take your feedback back to my colleagues for further discussion. I appreciate you reading my writing.

    • Jake says:

      What if the majority of your students turn in their late assignments the day before grades are due? Is that fair to you? Recently I had a conversation with a 28 year old male who was trying very hard to convince me that it should be ok if people were late to work….10 to 15 minutes late. When I ask him why he thought this behavior was acceptable, he referred to not be held accountable arriving to class on time and the opportunity to turn in assignments late with no major consequences.

      • Jeremy Hyler says:

        That is where I have internal battles. It amazes that there are people in our society that think it is okay to be late or not show up for work. That is why I still want to teach those life skills to my students such as responsibility.

  4. Frank Pelliccio says:

    A pebble in every teacher’s shoe for sure. Let me ask a simple question, what should grades measure?

    If you say achievement, then you’re not measuring it by grading homework, you’re measuring compliance, and arguably effort.

    If you say effort, student skills and achievement, how do you measure effort? What about the kid that has a 97 test average, and doesn’t do homework? Is he/she not doing what they need to, to learn?

    What about the kids who copy their homework, or plagiarize, and earn the same grades as the kids who witness their dishonesty? How does that make them feel? What are your grades measuring now?

    Should students see homework as an opportunity to learn more and deepen their understanding and recall? If so, the test scores are their homework grade, aren’t they? If not, don’t student then view homework as a meaningless endeavor and just more tedium?

    I’ll bet that after the dust settles from these discussions, teachers will realize that grades should be based solely on valid and meaningful assessments. Homework, class work and study skills should be measured, monitored and coached, and reported to parents, but not a part of the grade. How else will we measure what our students know and teach them that the work they do before he assessments is all about the learning?

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      Thank you Frank for your thoughts here. At times, I too struggle with assigning letter grades. I often wonder what do they really mean?

      I have had those students in the past who would get nothing but high marks on tests and quizzes, but never turned in one shred of homework. That student saw no value in it and they were a very smart individual. They have since gone on to be a successful individual in life.

      Ultimately it is about finding a balance that can work for our students and for us as educators.

      Thanks again for your thoughts here.

  5. George Bischoff says:

    I wonder if the issue is that homework counts too much. I usually roll a few assignments into each “one” in the grade book program, so that missing or late on one isn’t a killer by itself. I am pushing more quizzes out that measure if they understand, whether by doing the homework or not…this seems better for assessing if they have learned what I am looking for them to have learned. I teach HS science just to clarify (this had also been part of my answer while trying to push a more flipped arrangement, as it reinforces the need to actually do the reading/activities prior to the next class).

    Part of the issue is teaching the concept of time management and the sense of urgency to complete tasks…fought this battle for years in industry, too!

  6. Jeremy says:

    Hi George! Thanks for your response. I like your approach with homework. This is definitely something that I will bring up when we discuss homework policy again at our staff meetings.

    I agree that time management and the sense of urgency is importance. I think we need to teach these things first before we expect students to be more diligent about getting work turned in.

    Thanks again!

    • I should also mention that most homework is a continuation of work started in class…so that the “how” should be clear, now it is practice and reinforcement.

  7. Celestina Saulle says:

    I have eliminated meaningless homework and only assign homework if the student could not complete the assignment in class. My penalty policy is -10% for each day it’s late, up to 4 days (40%) then it’s a zero. Less punitive and still teaching responsibility. It has worked so far and I’m reaching 23 years. Thanks for raising the issue.

    • Jeremy says:

      Thank you Celestina for sharing your policy. This is an idea to definitely consider. Again, I appreciate your response to my post and reading my column.

  8. Tia says:

    Our school is K-8 and has struggled with this also. We went to standards based grading for the whole school a few years back for about three years, using a “behavior” grade for things like late work, being ready for class, managing time and materials. The high schools that our students move onto (mostly private) struggled with how to rank our students against traditionally graded students so last year, we returned to traditional grades along with standards for 7/8. In particular, we kept the idea of behavior grades for late work while not impacting the grade for the work produced. Students must also attend a mandatory study hall until the late work is completed (which may not work at every school model -our 7/8 still have a noon recess which is when this study hall takes place). We have found that the students still focus on the learning, and we can report that they are still working on the behavior skill without damaging the impact to the work they’ve put in. I’ve been teaching for 23 years and this is the best cross over I’ve been a part of for this struggle.

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      Thank you for your feedback. I like the idea of standards-based grading. We have actually had short conversations about it before in our meetings. I love the idea of a study hall. Thanks again for your timely input.

  9. Heather Strait says:

    Homework policy is a big concern/issue for me as a (first year) math teacher! The middle school team established a homework policy this year, but I had to modify mine because of the “repeat offenders” and my sanity. So now, I give 0% if an assignment is late. I also started giving out 2 homework passes per quarter because things happen and sometimes students just need a break.

    Honestly though, I don’t care if students complete homework, but if they don’t do the homework, their exam and quiz grades are going to be really bad (for the most part). Requiring homework is simply forcing them to practice skills so that they retain the information and are successful on the assessments. The great majority of my students do much better on assessments if they regularly complete homework.

    Interesting article. I like the homework policy. However, it seems that in courses such English and History, which have long-term projects/writing assignments, that they would deserve their own category on the rubric, and their own policy. I completely agree that if it is a quarter-long project, it is ridiculous to give a 0% for being a day or two late. However, if the students are given class time to work on the project, and little deadlines throughout to keep students on track, then that work would be counted toward homework/classwork grade. BTW I separate classwork from homework grade.

    If a course has long-term projects, a more appropriate syllabus might read:

    Exams 50%
    Quizzes 15%
    Daily Homework 15%
    Classwork/Participation 10%
    Quarter Project 10%

    • Jeremy Hyler says:

      I appreciate your input Heather. I really like your breakdown of the scale you had at the end of your response. I too think that giving students a “0” is not the greateast idea after a day or two. Thanks for responding!

  10. Patricia says:

    First of all, planners are not effective unless there is a consistent policy across the grade level. In elementary teachers used to have the planners on the side of each desk and checked routinely by the teacher. There is another time grabber! I like the flexibility of the app, paper or notebook. Most projects have a rubric which can include checkpoints for progress with dates due incorporated. I would assign a final grade based on the amount completed on the due date. With all the technology available, parents should know to monitor progress. However, ultimately it is the student who is responsible. Some schools (especially middle and high) have “advisory” periods and this is one of the opportunities for students to put forth extra effort to complete work. Again with tech available the classroom teacher should inform the advisory teacher of the students in their advisory who have deadlines coming up, passed due etc. The biggest problem with advisories has been more of a lack of follow through on the part of the teachers. Use the time for what it is intended by offering period coaching tips on writing or test taking; meeting in small groups with students who have the same courses and asking for their updates or what they feel they need help with; coaching a student who seems to have been struggling socially. Far too often if the students appear to be working, quietly talking, maybe a few napping, teachers see this as time for them to catch up on emails, grading. If that is within school policy, then fine but it is not in the spirit of the advisory period. Even playing a game to give the students some free time but structured can be a good way to interact and help students open up to each other.
    The biggest complaint from employers is “workers who are habitually late, don’t show up at all, and expect a pass.” Not requiring punctual attendance and work is doing our students a disfavor in life.

  11. Jeremy Hyler says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. We do have a homebase/advisory class. Part of that class is students getting some homework time. We are also incorporating more time into their exploratory classes as well next semester.

    Yes, I agree we do need to have students be on time to class and have students be responsible for their work, but at the middle school level the penalty should be less severe than a “0” the first day they are late. Again, thank-you for your thoughts.

  12. Chris says:

    I teach 6th grade math. I do not have any major projects, mostly homework, quizzes & tests. For late homework, I take off 10% per day for every day that the assignment is late. All assignments for that chapter must be turned in by the day of the test or the grade is a zero.

    • Jeremy says:

      Thanks Chris for the response. I do like this approach. We are considering doing something similar to this next semester. Thanks again for your insight.

  13. LT says:

    Here’s the thing you need to repeat as your mantra: *the point of grades is to communicate to parents, students, and other involved parties*

    I suppose this is my question for you, based on that: Why can’t you break down grades *for parents*? Why can’t you have a report card that says, for each subject:

    Tests/Quizzes: A/B/C/D (or N/A should be an option)
    Papers/Projects/Presentations: A/B/C/D or N/A
    Homework: A/B/C/D or N/A
    Organization: A/B/C/D ***THIS IS WHERE HOMEWORK TIMELINESS GOES!
    Behavior/Conduct: A/B/C/D

    Then you wouldn’t have to have endless debates about how much each measure should weigh, and you’d be communicating MUCH more clearly with parents; they’d have a much better idea of where things are going right/wrong fro their kid, and would result in way fewer “where did this grade come from” emails.

    It sounds like this is a problem for the whole school, and you need a solution that will (a) communicate better, (b) resolve debates, and (c) not create extra work for teachers. This would be *really* easy for teachers/computer programs to set up.

  14. Jeremy Hyler says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the post. I really appreciate your forward thinking here. We are definitely looking to make a change as a whole middle school. Again, thank you for responding.

  15. Viv says:

    Just a note on how I did things:

    I taught high school, earth science and biology, for years — just retired. Our school wide policy for science quarter grades (other depts. had similar policy) was: Tests 25%, Labs & Projects 25%, Quizzes 25%. Classwork 15%, Homework 10% (of total grade). Each teacher set his/ her own way of handling homework. For me, it was a reinforcement/ practice/ learning experience and students who actively participated always did better on tests/ quizzes/ labs/ projects (except perhaps those at the very top and very bottom). I walked around the room each day while students did a warm-up and put the daily stamp (I had many themed stamps and colors of ink) on any homework paper laid out for inspection and next to the stamp wrote the approximate amount completed (all, 3/4,1/2,1/3,1/4,few, none) after a quick glance. After discussing the warm-up, we’d discuss the homework and students would self-correct any mistakes (to me this was an important step) — anyone who hadn’t done the assignment was welcome to hastily do it then for 50% (at least they’d pay attention as we discussed the answers and they’d have the paper to use for study purposes). To get 100% on that day’s homework a student had to have an “all” by the stamp and all answers correct when it was passed in. Having a stamp with “all” but failing to make corrections earned a student whatever percent of the answers were corrected (anywhere from 99% to 0%). I used this scale for a student who’d made all corrections: a “3/4” stamp = 85%. “1/2” = 75%. “1/3” = 70%, “1/4” = 65%, “few” = 60%, “none”/ or papers that mysteriously turned up in the collection box without a stamp = 50%. I accepted late homework (and classwork) up until a few days before the end of the grading quarter for a maximum of 50% (one day late or 40 days late). Parents appreciated the fact that doing the work at any point still taught the lesson that it was important and gave a reward for the effort (even though I knew it was probably copied). Kids who’d hastily copied someone’s homework right before class realized that they had to pay attention to homework discussion and check & correct answers to get credit (the kids who readily let others copy their answers were usually the same ones with numerous guesses/ errors).

  16. Jeremy says:

    Thank you so much for your response. I am really interested in your scale and am seriously considering implementing some pieces of it. Your thoughts and insight have been very helpful and I appreciate your input on the topic.

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