Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Slice of Life, a Tuesday post, is sponsored by Two Writing Teachers
Driving home from the junior varsity basketball game this evening my son, Collin, confessed. He got another "undone." An undone is what students get when they do not turn in an assignment on time. When a student doesn't have his work, the teacher fills out the undone form in triplicate. The white copy goes home for the parents to sign; the teacher keeps the yellow copy and the pink copy, well my son thinks it goes to the principal. The Violent Femmes came to mind as I was driving home: “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record." It won't. I know that now, but I remember what it felt like to be forgetful.

I wish that Collin remembered every assignment every week and every day, but I'm a realist. People forget things. I forget things.  People forget things that are more important than a signature on a science fair form and more life-altering than a rough draft. Sometimes they even testify to such in a court of law. That does not mean that Collin should not learn to meet deadlines and develop work habits that will help him succeed in high school. He should. 

I get the undone thing. I might not agree with how it's graded and counted, but I appreciate the intent. 

As a parent another thing I appreciate about the undone is the way it gives Collin and opportunity to talk to me. He has to tell me. He either tells and I sign his form so that he can turn in the assignment that he left finished at home on the breakfast table(or in the printer) for a reduced grade or he goes to detention, something I might only learn about when the monthly bill came. Yes, I pay for him to attend a detention. He goes to a private school and parents  pay for detention time but that is another story. Collin always tells, so far anyway. 

It is difficult for him and I admire his bravery every time he faces it. I hated telling my father when I'd done something wrong at school. I hated telling my Mom too, but it was easier to tell her. Collin is on his ninth undone. That seems excessive to me. Does it seem excessive to you? He's in sixth grade. He has seven teachers. He has not gotten nine undones in every class, just nine total. He says he's perhaps in the middle of the undone pack in terms of the other kids in his grade. I'm just curious about undone norms I guess, though I shouldn't compare. We brainstormed solutions and settled on making a checklist for his mirror or the backdoor--something to remind him to think through his needs for the day.

 I appreciated the conversation today's undone engendered.  Collin asked about how teachers at my school handle late work. We often talk about what he's doing in middle school in terms of getting ready for high school. I appreciate that his middle school teachers work as a team. Frankly, sometimes I'm jealous of that unity. At my school teachers have their own undone or late work policies. Those policies range far and wide. Collin asked about what happens in high school when you don't have your work on time. I gave him a list of how some teachers I know handle late work. What happens if you turn in an assignment late at my high school?  

  • You get a zero. Some teachers do not accept late work at all [period]. 
  • You get a letter grade off.
  • You get 1/3 of a letter grade off for each day it is late.
  • You get 1/2 credit on the assignment.
  • You turn in the work without any points penalty.  
  • You can make up the assignment after school for full or partial credit. 
  • You have to make up the work but you do not get credit for it.
Those are just the policies I know. We have nearly two hundred teachers at my school. Departments do not have standard late work policies. Sometimes specialty programs like International Baccalaureate or AVID do, but they are not consistently followed by the entire team. Exceptions abound. 

I favor  Rick Wormeli's thinking when it comes to grades and late work. I don't want to demand adult-level competencies from children.  Learning is recursive; our current system is not. When I consider how to handle late work in my classroom, I think about knowledge and behavior. I ask myself if I'm grading what a student knows and is able to do or if  I'm grading a behavior. Then I think about how I can set the student up to learn the behaviors he needs to meet deadlines in the future. Behaviors are learned. I want to develop students' character.  What lesson will set students up to learn not to procrastinate or not to rush out without checking you have what you need? What lesson will help students recover their grade and learn how to meet the deadline the next time? Collin and I talked about those sorts of things during our drive home. 

If a student has more than a couple of undones, I would expect the teacher to talk to the student and the parents. Look into causes. If someone is not doing his work, there must be a problem. It might be a matter of forgetfulness. It might be that the student does not know how to manage his time or his resources as he gets ready for school. The student might be doing their work but not turning it in.  Is the student rushed in the morning or over extended after school with extracurricular activities?   Would a checklist or a planner help? Conversations matter. This kind of procedural learning takes time--we don't have twenty-two years, but we do have today and quite a few tomorrows still. . As Wormeli says, "We're in the world to look out for each other, not to play gotcha." 

1 comment:

  1. What a timely post for me to read. The middle school teachers at my school are always rethinking their policies for grading, and especially for how to handle late work or retakes of assignments or tests. I could argue for or against a number of the policies you mention above but instead I want to refer you and other readers to Anne Davie and Sandra Herbst's blog post at http://sandraherbst.blogspot.ca/ about giving zeros and the danger of extremes. What they say makes sense to me specially about consequences: the consequence for not doing something should be to do it. Are the kids getting off too easily? Maybe, but the point is that learning takes place and what better way for that to happen than to do the assignment....no matter what.