A couple of weeks ago, I went to a district meeting, and we discussed grading, which is a sensitive subject. While we all grade differently, teach different ways and teach different grade levels (6th-12th), there is one element we all agree on- secondary students are not turning assignments in when they are due. I cannot speak for the elementary level, but at the middle school and high school levels, we seem to be struggling to get our students to turn in assignments, whether it is homework or classwork.
I plug an “X” into my grade book, which indicates the student did not turn in the assignment, and it calculates a zero into the final grade. I have always done this because my students need the visual of an “X” and I need to know which assignments are missing. Many of the other teachers just put a zero. Recently, our leader stood in front of the room and told us, “Please stop putting zeros in the grade book.” The room was silent, but the strain on the faces of our content leaders said it all. Stop putting a zero? Really? What are we supposed to do? The kids are not doing the work, so they deserve a zero.
Most of us sat in shocked silence, but as you know, there is always one teacher who speaks up, and she gave her reasons for the zero, which was logical: “When are they going to learn responsibility?” “We did this IN CLASS, and they went to sleep.” These were some of the more common reasons for assigning zeros. Then one of our district leaders said something that made so much sense to me, “In the real world, if you are assigned something, you still have to do it.”
If I do not complete my online training, I get an email, not a zero. If I don’t turn in my lesson plans, I get an email to have them ready by the end of the day. I do not receive a zero and an “oh well.” It dawned on me that some teachers are giving a zero without giving students an opportunity to make up the assignment. In my class I always allow the students to make up assignments (and yes, it does get frustrating taking work from three weeks ago) but they did do it, and they receive partial credit. I would rather them turn something in late than not do it at all. All assignments have merit and are tied to a standard. A standard the student must master to pass their class, the state exam, or excel in life. They did it. I know it is irritating, and a million reasons why you should not take it, but there is one reason why you should, the student.
I believe in second chances, even three or four because I am not perfect, and I forget to turn things in also. I still put X’s in the grade book, and if they fail to turn the assignment in, it stays an X and is calculated into a zero, but I hunt down my kids. I print out weekly progress reports, highlight missing assignments, and call home. Now, most of my students do the work, and I do not have to beg them to turn it in, but there are always those few I have to stay on. I know what you are thinking, “You are not doing them any favors by doing this. You are making more work for yourself.” Yes, I am aware of this, but if they complete the assignment, they practice the skill, which is the most important thing. Learning. Usually, when they do not complete an assignment, it is because they do not understand it, not because they are being spiteful, I am discussing the majority of students, not the few knuckleheads that are just stubborn.
Yes, it is important for them to turn things in on time, but it is more critical for them to learn. Yes, there should be a late work penalty, but there should not be zero if they did the assignment. Give them hope that they can catch up and there are second chances. Ask why they did not do the assignment, and you may find it wasn’t because they just didn’t care, maybe they didn’t understand it, or maybe there is something going on at home that you are unaware of. Our students are just kids, and balancing personal lives and work responsibilities is not something they have mastered yet. So, by all means, lecture and fuss, but take it late and put the partial credit. Remember, we are not perfect; at the end of the day, it is about learning, not whether or not an assignment should be turned in on time.