Friday, May 22, 2015

The Search for a Workable Late Work Policy, Part Two

Last month, I wrote about changes I made to my own, personal late-work policy.  Today, I would like to share a little bit about the new policy that we tried out at the high school level this year.  A fellow social studies teacher and I were responsible for putting the policy into action and supervising the after school study hall.

I have written a description of the policy below:

After School Assistance Program

If a student fails to finish an assignment on the day it is due, they must report to the after school study hall in Room 109 from 3:30 to 4:30, where they will work on their missing assignment until it is done.

Each day, the students must sign in by 3:45, indicating what assignment they will be working on.

The ASAP supervisor will collect the sign-up sheets and input the attendance record into a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Students must submit all late work to the ASAP supervisor (if it is an email or electronic submission, they must cc the ASAP supervisor).  Students must write the original due-date on the top of the assignment before submitting.  The supervisor then checks the attendance records to make sure that the student has indeed been at ASAP each day since the assignment was due.  For every day that the student failed to attend the study hall while they still had an outstanding assignment, they will receive one tardy.  If they are missing two assignments, they will receive two tardies for each day they failed to attend, and so on.

Furthermore, after five days (Sundays excluded), the assignment begins to lose credit, 10% per day.  After 10 days, the teacher will not accept the assignment at all, and will score that assignment a 'zero' in the grade-book, unless the student makes other arrangements with the teacher.

We arrived at this policy through trial and no shortage of error during this school-year.  For the first semester, we had not thought to put the responsibility of signing in to study hall on the students, so my fellow supervisor and I would spend a prep period each day scouring the online grades to make a list of students with missing assignments who we would expect to show up after school.
There were several major problems with this:
1) To work, this system required teachers to update their grades daily so that all record of missing assignments would always be current.
2) If students did not show up, we essentially had to become bloodhounds and track the students down to tell them to go to the study hall.
3) For the students who we could not find, the principal had to email them.  Some days, the principal emailed as many as 30 students who had been listed as having a missing assignment, yet who missed the study hall.  More often than not, these students turned out to have legitimate reasons for missing, and some had already submitted their assignments, but the grades had not been updated.
It was an unreasonable burden on the teachers and on the principal.  Moreover, there were no set consequences for missing, other than an email from the principal and an email to parents if skipping became habitual.

In January, we made several major revisions to arrive at the policy listed above.

Has this new policy been a success?
That is a complicated question.

Most days, we receive a small stack of assignments that had been due either that day in class, or the day before.  For students who are trying hard, but struggling to finish their work on time for whatever reason, this system provides them with the support that they need to finish, while also imposing the compelling consequence of sacrificing an hour of their time after school, and possibly even missing a sports practice or rehearsal.  For students who are motivated by their time, this policy has been fair and has kept many students who would have been at risk of falling behind on top of their work.

On the other hand, for students who lack time management skills or who are not motivated by time, this system has been counter-productive.  My co-supervisor and I were surprised at how many students have been content to come every day after school--for them, the prospect of sacrificing an hour of their time after school has clearly not been a motivator.  Many students who regularly attend the after school study hall are there because they lack the organization or time management skills to use homework or class-time well, and they do not use the after school work-time well, either.

For these students, our new policy may be doing a disservice: they are eventually losing assignment credit as they would have under the old system, but are now being taught that they are doing something proactive by regularly attending the after school study hall (even as they fail to submit their work).  I worry that these students will have to learn through catastrophic failure in their first year in college, where there's no guarantee that a professor will even accept an assignment submitted late.

This system that we are offering out of grace, and the desire to carry out good educational practice may actually be working against preparing these students for the world beyond CAJ.

So, as the year comes to a close, I am in somewhat of a quandary: the teacher in me who wants to see student work assessed fairly on its own merits rejoices in a policy that separates timeliness from other skills or understandings.  However, the teacher in me who wants to see his students thrive after they graduate is filled with worry and doubt.

This policy works extremely well for some, but what about those who continue to fall behind even with this policy in place?

I am eager to revisit the late-work policy with my colleagues after school finishes, and brainstorm ways to make this better so that we can make the changes we need to make without losing the benefit that this has for some students, and the basic philosophy of separating timeliness from other skill or understanding grades.

We took a worthwhile risk in trying out this new policy, and the time has come to discern what must be kept and what must be changed to best prepare our students to "serve Japan and the world for Christ."

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