Should you accept late student work?
Every teacher knows when it’s getting near the end of the marking period that a few students are going to come up to the desk one day after class and ask, “What can I do to bring my grade up?” It’s hard not to get frustrated when the student standing in front of you has turned in so many things late (or not at all) but suddenly you are expected to come up with extra work and then grade that work so the student won’t get a bad grade.
It’s really hard not to get frustrated. You’re tired. You have SO much to do all the time. They could have just done the work you gave the first time, right?
I’m with you, because I have had way too many of these conversations. When I started teaching, I worked at a school where we could never assign zeros. We had to chase kids to get them to turn in work, and from where I was standing, it sure seemed like I was doing way too much. Because I was. Accepting late student work was just one more expectation on an already LONG list! So, what can we do about late student work?
The first thing I did was change my mindset. I looked at the grades I was giving, the work I was grading, and the expectations I had. Here’s what I found.
I was grading WAY too much.
I made the mistake of thinking that if it wasn’t for a grade, they wouldn’t do it. That wasn’t true. I actually stopped grading about half of the work I had been previously spending hours every week grading. The same kids didn’t do it, but that’s a different issue. What I did discover was that the majority of the kids really did do it, even if it wasn’t graded.
My grades were not really accurate reflections of student understanding.
I had some students who were so sweet, and they worked so hard to turn in every single assignment. They might not have always done well, but they did it. Test time came around and they didn’t get the best score. Why? Because they weren’t really mastering the material. Their grades were pretty good, though, because they did all the homework. So, what did those grades really say?
Some kids just were not able to get the homework done.
Some students don’t have the resources at home to get it done. Others might have to work at night to help support their families. Maybe you have a student who has to take care of younger siblings. Whatever the reason, it’s not good to assume they are unmotivated or don’t want to do it. I’ve had some amazing students who really wanted to succeed, but their home situations made it really hard for that to happen. In that case, accepting late student work might be the best way to help that student!
So, what changed when I looked at my own expectations?
The point deductions went away.
A lot of teachers (including myself at one time) deduct points for late student work. I personally gave half-credit for late work. I don’t know how I decided this was fair, or the right amount, but it just seemed like what everyone did, so I did it.
Once I realized my grades weren’t always accurate reflections of student understanding, this really stuck out to me. If a student did all the work, but turned it all in late, he or should would get 50% on the homework grade.
Combine that with the tests, quizzes, and classwork we did, and a lot of times, that meant this student was getting a C maximum. However, because that student had done the work (even late), often he or she was able to do well on the assessments. That should count for more, because I think the grade really should reflect understanding more than effort. I am not saying you should accept piles of late student work the last day of the quarter, or that work should never matter!
I began giving assignments that students had multiple days to work on.
I make grammar and vocabulary units for the entire unit, and everything is in one easy packet to help students stay organized. They usually had one longer homework assignment per week to do, and they had all week to work on it. That assignment was usually several pages long, so they could work on it as we learned in class, but if they wanted to work ahead, they knew exactly what to do.
I rethought how I assigned homework. By not expecting students to complete the assignment that night, they could choose when they had time. My turn-in rate went up by a lot, because students were reminded daily of what they needed to do. By doing this, I was also able to work with students who were consistently not completing work, and we were able to come up with some time-management strategies. Accepting late student work was much less of an issue when there was more flexibility.
I offered extensions but expected more accountability.
In addition, I would give extensions to students who would turn in a note (or email) asking for more time. The student would have to submit a dated letter or email asking for more time. I didn’t require them to tell me why they hadn’t finished it, because sometimes, the reason was personal. To make sure it didn’t happen too often, I kept track of these letters and emails, and after a few times, I contacted parents about the late student work and we set up a student plan.
I gave all of my kids OOPS passes.
They got one per grading period, and they could use them for any small assignment they missed. This allowed them to turn in the assignment a day late with no questions asked. If they didn’t use them, I gave them a few bonus points or a small prize at the end of the grading period. Even high schoolers like picking things from the prize bin, even if it is a little pin, sticker, or one of those cute pencils that I knew would wreck my pencil sharpener!
So what happened with late student work?
The work students turn in was rarely late.
Not only that, but it was much higher quality. They took time work work on it. They weren’t rushing to copy it from another student in the hallway before class. In turn, the assessment scores went up, because they were actually understanding it.
One more option for dealing with late student work
Another option for accepting late student work is simply to accept all formative assessments (homework, worksheets, etc.) until the unit evaluation. Obviously, students have to know the material before the test, so doing a bunch of work all at once just before the end of the grading period isn’t effective. If you want to accept late student work but don’t want to be slammed with a lot of work during the week grades are due, this is a possibility.
There are a lot of different options for dealing with late student work. Of course, if your school has a policy, how you approach it will have to be in line with that. If you have a little flexibility, perhaps you can discuss it with your teammates or your department and come up with something that works for you. No matter what you decide, it’s usually necessary to experiment and find what works best for you.