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.
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:
- Create their different classes
- Track their assignments with color coding and set reminders for due dates
- Use a calendar that can show due dates daily, weekly, and monthly
- 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).