Why Don’t I Take “Late Marks” Off?

This teacher is angry cos a student dared to show up late at his class, and have the audacity to tell him I know it’s due today, but I’ll hand it in tomorrow.

Image result for teacher angry with student

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A recent discussion had people asking, what do you do about kids handing work in late– do you take marks off?

My answer to this question: no, never.

Why? Well, for many of the same reasons I don’t mark behaviour, plus one more: when I am marking student work, and telling them/Admins/their parents etc their mark, that mark must reflect the curriculum and map onto criteria.

So here’s today’s though experiment about two students, Chris and Enid.

Chris looooooves Mr Hardass’s Spanish class. LOOOOOOOOVES it. He likes Spanish class soooooo much he wants to be a Spanish teacher just like Mr Hardass when he grows up. But Chris, sadly, is an idiot. He is s.l.o.w. and, well, not very good at Spanish. His mark is 75% despite extended Duolingo sessions, tutors his parents have hired, and even a crew of Latino kids in high school.

Then we have Enid, who is a major badass. She starts with a late-morning blunt sesh to a. take the edge off her Tuesday hangover, generated by partying with her 23 year old coke-dealing boyfriend until Falstavian hours, and b. make Math class less tedious.  Even if she could be bothered to go to Mr Hardass’s Spanish, she sure wouldn’t do/bring any homework cos omfg I have way funner things to do.  However– and this irritates the crap out of both Mr Hardass and Chris– Enid is really good at Spanish. Her drug dealer’s best friend is Latino, and she’s acquired a bunch (of Spanish) from him over bong hits. She also works with a crew of Latinos. She also, well, likes a lot of salsa music, and has a thing for Mexican reggaeton, and has been secretly following Corazon Salvaje for a few years.

So at the end of Term 1, poor dunderheaded Chris scrapes by with a B, because Mr Hardass mercy-ups him to 75% from 71. Enid, meanwhile, crushes on everything and gets an A, 95%…but then the penalties kick in. Mr Hardass, who fancies himself a teacher of “soft skills” and “rigor” and “reality preparation,” and who wants his students to “respect” him and the system, deducts late marks, missed homework marks, attitude and participation marks, bla bla bla, until Enid is down to a 75%.

Enid and Chris, both disappointed, go to see Mr Hardass about their marks.  Chris’s question is what can I do to get a higher mark? and Mr Hardass knows, not much, everybody is different and hems and haws and prays that Chris’ helicopter parents don’t email the principal.

Enid meanwhile struts in, reeking of cigarette smoke.

Enid: ¿por qué me diste una B si hablo español, y lo entiendo?
Mr Hardass: Well, you don’t hand work in, or pay attention, and your attitude is terrible. This means marks come off, so your mark is low, as explained in my fascinating course outline, which I know you read, because I gave you a 5-mark test to ensure that you’d read it, because in my experience if marks aren’t attached to something, students don’t do it.
Enid: But I can speak, read and understand everything in Spanish.  Every test I do I get 90% or over on, and I can answer any question I hear.
Mr Hardass:

Riddle me this, my brothers and sisters:  how does a mark of 75% accurately reflect both Chris’ and Enid’s skills?

Anyway, here are some comments about this and my responses:

That’s great. Does the Spanish (or whatever) curriculum specify that marks should partly be based on attendance? No? Hmm… And sure, “soft skills” like punctuality matter…but shouldn’t a student’s Spanish mark be based on Spanish skills? Does the curriculum say,  students will hand things in on teacher-decided due dates?

 

Sounds like a power tip to me: do it my way– which is correct– or be penalised.  Who cares if a kid “blows off” one’s class?  If they aren’t in class, or doing homework (and the class and homework provide useful and meaningful input and activities), their language skills will drop, as will their mark.

False analogy.  You have to be ready to effectively teach for Friday.  If your Adminz require lesson plans, they are missing the point, and wasting your and their time.  I don’t follow or even have lesson plans, but I show up and get my job done.  In a language class, a student’s job is to acquire language.  Being on time, or handing work in on time, matter, but they aren’t the point.

 

This assumes, falsely, that obvious work habits = acquisition.  This is simply not the case.  JGR is not a valid assessment tool.  As I noted in an earlier post, my best-ever student would have lost about 20% of his grade had I used JGR for his mark.

Now, here is my own policy.

  1. We have work to do which builds mental representation of language.  This work includes PQA, storyasking, reading, Movietalk, Picturetalk, etc.
  2. We will try to do as much of this as possible in class.  If it doesn’t get done in class, it’s homework.  Students in my class can generally expect about 30 min. of Spanish hwk per week, and it’s easy: it is all basically read and translate, either on paper or through Textivate.
  3. If the homework is late, I put an INC in the spreadsheet where the mark should be.  The computer does not generate a mark if there is an INC.  The kids all see the marks they have for various assignments.  However, if they have not handed something in, the computer generates an INC for their overall grade. This is motivation for most kids to do and hand in their work:  they always ask what am I getting in Spanish?  When work is done and marked, I add the mark and the kids know what they are getting.
  4. If the homework they have not done can be copiedand I have handed it back to those who did it on time, the kids who have not done it agree on one after-school day or lunch where they can come in and do it, supervised by me, so there is no copying.  If they miss this, they get a zero.

    Why do I use zeros?  Because I don’t have infinite time and patience, and because…

  5. …when the next story cycle starts, all previous marks now don’t count.  My students’ marks are always their most recent scores.  At any given time, their mark is combination of one or two listening tests, one or two reading assignments, and a writing score based on a five-minute write and a story write.

    So if Johnny blows off homework, he gets an INC until he hands work in or comes to after-school make-up session.  If he doesn’t, his mark drops…until the next “story cycle” starts.

And some final reasons not to “take off late marks”

Grades, as Alfie Kohn and many others have argued, should not be used for motivation. We want work to be intrinsically interesting, and not a “payment” for “work” done.

If a kid isn’t doing work, we also have to ask ourselves the teacher’s difficult question: is there something I need to change? Is the homework too difficult?  Does it take too much time, or time away from things that kids would get more out of?  Is the homework stupid? (by which we mean not teaching students anything useful)  Does it reflect what is happening in class?

 

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4 comments

  1. Very interesting. Does #5 mean that the only grade is the current grade in the current story cycle. And what about the final grade? Thanks.

    1. You got it.

      Their only grade is the current grade in the current story cycle.

      Final mark is 10% coursework 90% final exams. The two usually correlate basically perfectly.

      1. I love the simplicity of this. I had a very similar system in the fall, but got busted by principal because I just had the categories (reading, listening, etc) in the grading system and updated the grades as we went along. So there were not “enough grades” in the system. I explained the rationale to her (grades reflect current proficiency and prior “low marks” should not affect student’s current status). A big part of why I did it that way was not just me being lazy (aka looking after my own mental and physical health) but because the system automatically averages everything. I told her “I am not averaging. That is not valid. I am doing “competency based grading” (which the school is moving toward even though we still have numerical grades AND rubrics for competencies, so she should applaud me for being ahead of the curve). HA! She said, “well you can always override it in the end.” Really??? After all the numberZ I can do that? Why can’t I just update every coupla weeks and avoid that hassle? She either did not understand (included in explanation was SLA smarts 101) or understood and still made me “enter a new grade every week” since that is what everyone else has to do.

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