Saturday, November 6, 2010

Docking student paychecks

In all of your years in the field of education, have you ever been late (in no particular order)
- for a meeting?
- to the start of a class?
- handing in course outlines?
- getting marking back to your students?
- for bus duty?
- calling a parent?
- handing in a report to for a supervisor?
- sending in a posting for a position at your school?
- filing monthly safety reports?
- to watch the start of a game or performance?
- writing a letter of reference for a student (and then worked like heck to get it out)?
- for various other things far too embarrassing to admit?

Of course, this is not even remotely close to being an exhaustive list (and I encourage you to keep adding to this list).  Without trying to make anyone feel guilty, I might guess that ALL of these might have happened in our schools in the past week!  But I am going to guess that even if we were late for all of these and more this week, that we all still received our paychecks in full. 

We are all responsible adults.  We have graduated from high schools, have a few letters tacked on to the signature bar on our emails with advanced degrees, hold down good jobs, and have families (at least some of us).  And guess what--we are still late for things.  Not because we are lazy, irresponsible, or just want to thumb are noses at "the establishment".  We are late for things because we are HUMAN. 

So if this is the case, why is it that in education the debate still rages on about allowing teachers take marks off for students handing in work late?  In a recent post on Twitter, a link to Globe and Mail article called "Report Cards Get a Failing Grade" stated the following:

"And, after more than a decade, Ontario has reversed the guideline (implemented inconsistently by schools anyway) that late assignments should not be marked down – and teachers could not give zeroes. Manitoba is expected to make the same announcement in two weeks, and Saskatchewan is also reviewing the issue.

Not marking down for late assignments – a guideline that directly affects report cards – was an example, educators say, of a well-meaning approach that failed..."

Wow. What are people thinking when they believe that giving late marks motivates students to complete homework on time? The research is so clear (just email Rick Stiggins if you would like a sampling, or watch Douglas Reeves to see his piece on Toxic Grading Practices, or look up any of the work by Ken O'Connor, such as A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, or Guskey et. al, etc.) that this does not work

Imagine every day that you are told that you are a failure.  Of course, in education, you are not told that you are a failure; you are told that you are a "3 out of 10", a "42 out of 100", a "D", or even better "too late".  You don't really like school anyway, it's pretty boring and you don't really know why you have to learn logarithms anyhow.  Your teachers seem to always be mad at you and hounding you, and when you copied your friends work you were told that you cheated, and when you told the teacher that your friend just copied it out of the book and you just copied it from them they got even angrier at you.  But then the one time that you finally did that project you were most proud of, the project that you sweated over because you finally were interested in the topic that your teacher covered in class, and that you excitedly turned in, only to get it back with a huge 90/100 with a MINUS 50% FOR BEING LATE.  Wow, I'll bet you learned a really valuable lesson.  And I can only guess how motivated you will be to do another project.

If schools cannot come up with more creative ways to enforce deadlines for assignments and projects than deducting late marks (ie. if a student does not get something in on time, they have to spend extra TIME at school getting it done--what a concept) then the educational apocalypse truly is upon us. We want students to be creative, but we cannot be creative in solving this very basic issue?  The natural consequence for not doing work is (gasp!) TO DO THE WORK! Not to take marks away. An as a small aside, the last time I checked, students learn at different rates. So our answer to differentiate for their learning is to make hard and fast deadlines and enforce them with late marks? 

Here are some not-so-creative solutions:

- when a student doesn't do the work, MAKE THEM DO THE WORK, not take the zero.  That is the easy way out.

- reluctant workers are not as motivated by marks as they are by SOCIAL TIME.  If a student does not do work on time, lunch hours, breaks, and after school times are excellent motivators to get students to do work--try it.  They will not like it, and their parents will LOVE it!

- don't assign CRAP.  And we all know what crap (aka. busy work, stuff that you don't value) is--questions 1-5 at the end of the chapter when the answers are in the back of the book is a prime example of crap.  Copying out definitions from the glossary is another good piece of crap, and the list goes on.

- Have kids be a PART OF THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS including establishing deadlines!  If they don't meet the deadline, TALK TO THEM about it.  You will find out a lot of things about your students, and a lot of the reasons for them not meeting that deadline will suprise you, and not be about you.  It will also give you a chance to connect for kids, and show them that you care.

- When a student knows that you care about them, THEY WILL NOT WANT TO DISAPPOINT YOU.

I do want to be clear that I am not here to advocate for being irresponsible and not valuing deadlines.  Quite the contrary—deadlines are a huge part of all of our lives. But let’s make sure that we are using the right tools to teach responsibility (not late marks), and let’s make sure that we remember that 1) we were kids once, and perhaps not quite as responsible as we might selectively choose to remember, and 2) we are late every once in a while, not because we want to “stick it to the man”, but because we are human.

It's pretty rare in education that we get our paychecks docked for being late.  Let's not dock students' paychecks.


  1. This is fantastic. I had a lightbulb moment this week that "proves" what you say to be true. I rarely give out homework, never "assign" homework, and have never, ever reduced a mark for lateness if something was sent home from a class project to complete.

    The other day, I had designed an in-class quiz for my Social Studies 9 class. I had anticipated (fairly correctly) that they could complete the assignment in the hour. As we hit the 45 minute mark, a cry started to sound: "Can we PLEASE take it home to finish!?" Now,these are NOT high-achieving private school kids, these are LOW socio-economic, 75% graduation rate kids. But I said, sure, they could choose: leave them with me if they feel they have them complete, or take them home BUT if they go home, they MUST be in my hand by the next class. 2 kids (of 30) left them, and of the other 28, 24 returned their assignments. Not Bad.

    What a lesson/reminder for me: Give them choice and power over their own learning. Yay! Thanks for this great article-- I'm going to share it with my colleagues.

  2. Buffy, this is terrific! I think that we both agree with Rick Stiggins when he said "It's not about whether the kids hit the target today, it's about whether they come back and try again tomorrow." Thanks for your comment!

  3. A key is to make the students do the work. I worked with an alternate program whose staff pushed students to work towards 100% completion. It was an ambitious but attainable goal that took considerable effort from the teachers’ standpoint but ultimately, it was incredibly motivating for the students (and incredibly rewarding for the staff). This was one of the many ways that these teachers showed that they cared about the learning and believed that given the right support and guidance, their students could be successful. They were determined to not create roadblocks for them.

    Great post Cale, thanks.

  4. Wow, this sounds incredible Terry! The hard part is that pushing students to those heights IS difficult and takes work, but the reward is immeasurable, as your staff found out. Those students will remember that group of teachers who went that extra mile and showed that they cared forever!

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I look forward to working with you through the BCPVPA and Twitter!


  5. This post resonates with me, as I am always late with management type tasks (I should be entering grades as I type this) and you are correct I have many educational and career accomplishments in spite of this. I have always allowed students to hand in work late, and have been admonished by administration and other faculty for "breaking the schoolwide late rule" (unexcused late = zero no exceptions). I have a hard time with this because I don't assign crap and the assignments build on knowledge and skills that will assist in their inquiry based PBLs. So if a student is only on step 3 and others on step 6 so what?? Isn't that part of individualized learning? We all do things at our own pace? I know I am probably one of the last teachers with their grades not completed (I am waiting for late work to come in via google apps) but I feel the scorn of my peers is worth it if my students feel that I respect them and their learning process.

  6. Thanks for your post Regina! You are so correct--individualized learning requires individualization! It sounds silly to say this, but it's even sillier to say that we individualize learning when we are made to have standardized timelines.

    Well said.

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