Managing Homework, Do-overs, Late, Make-up and Extra-credit

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Change how formative assessments are valued or stay the same?Teachers know late work throws a wrench into their planning and grading. Redo and do-over, a mantra of assessment for learning concerns teachers–how to manage the redundancy of such an approach? Can there be one single way to reduce the frustration of student work coming in for review and feedback across the calendar of an instructional unit? Yes, by eliminating due dates for formative assessment! Sound impossible? It is not!

Good educators not only manage time across the year teaching units, they also manage hours within the day teaching standards, and minutes within classroom periods for instruction and student practice. On top of planning for instruction, teachers must also plan for assessment: formative, summative, and interim. How to manage the grading load across these incremental schedules? Eliminate deadlines for formative assessment. Yes, I’ve said this twice!

In a perfect world of schooling, unit and lesson plans come together in a seamless orchestration–teaching rhythmically flows between instruction, informal assessment, and descriptive feedback. This learning flow supports the transfer of essential knowledge and skills eventually demonstrated in an interim or summative assessment.

However, in the real world of life beyond school, students are sometimes absent from instruction, forget to complete work, have no time to do homework, or miss the point of instruction they sat through and cannot complete work outside of class. And, life bumps into teachers just as it bumps into students. Events in the real world confound teacher planning and cause teacher absence. The process of good teaching often changes the plan itself–students are just not ready for the next instructional step. Today’s teaches do not merely cover material—today’s teachers teaching to proficiency.

How to eliminate deadlines? Here are some tips in developing an open classroom that supports learning and alleviates daily stress.

  • Only prescribe a value to homework, classroom work, independent work near the unit end, after students have had time to revise, correct, reflect, and get the work done. In the meantime, use a checklist in the grade book to document that work is happening.
  • Expect and support students filing every paper, every assignment, and every note taken during the unit (more on that later in this blog). To ever allow students to throw away a paper indicates that paper and their time had NO value.
  • Have a review time for formative assessments rather than a due date. Develop a timeline for teacher feedback—then live by that. If you ask for papers one day, get them back the next or within no more than two days. You may like to take papers in on only Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Design a space that describes the teaching & learning that takes place each day. I used an entire bulletin board marked off like a calendar. Each day, I would post a 3X5 card for each class so students who were absent would have an easy overview of the day they missed. Keep this available through the entire unit instruction. This works well digitally, too.
  • Put all classroom handouts and other material in an easily accessed student location: one that allows the students to be responsible and doesn’t require you to do the finding. I kept all handouts chronological stacked on a table near the calendar.

To make this system work, the class must have a dynamic yet organized storage system that compiles the work of learning, allows space and time for growth, promotes student editing and correction, and rewards individual effort in the process. In this space, students will be responsible to file their teaching and learning materials with the expectation that the materials may be audited daily or weekly, but formal assessment (a grade in the gradebook) will come near the end of each teaching to produce a score for student work.

Step 1: Take time early in the year (or semester or the unit if you are just starting) to create individualized storage spaces for learning that contain all materials used over the period of a unit: handouts, student generated writing/drawing, classroom notes/lists, texts for annotation, etc. EVERYTHING.

Begin the year (or the semester or the unit) by having students organize a storage space for learning. If working digitally, lead students through the creation of folders with subfolders and files; if working with hard copy, guide students in the organization of three-ring binders divided by sections. In either case, label the main folder or binder by the discipline and then, within the folder or binder create subfolders or sections. As the teacher, you predetermine titles for each subfolders or sections will be titled, e.g., lecture notes, reading notes, notes (in general), vocabulary work, classroom handouts, journal entries, reading log, experiments, etc. If you are working in a three-ring binder, put blank paper in each section from the start to avoid the issues of having or not having paper later.

If you haven’t organized in this way before, think about the kinds of work you have students do as practice for learning in your content area and then think about how you would classify the practice. Just because you give students handouts doesn’t mean you need that as a section: perhaps the handouts are vocabulary practice or note-taking guides or experiment reports. In those cases, rather than have handouts sitting as a thing, you may want to include them in the related learning.

If you are teaching in a stand-alone content area, I suggest four to five subfolders or sections. If you are teaching a self-contained class, you might want to have a section for each of the content areas you intend to organize and then create subfolders or tabs inside each of these.

Step 2: Each day you teach, remind students to title, date, and correctly file any and all documents created or distributed during that day (some days there may be no docs beyond the teaching text). As they document date, title, etc., you enter the details on your own list to be used in Step 4. Remember, no document related to teaching and learning that is distributed in class is trash—all documents, all student work goes in the storage space for learning.

From day 1, remember to encourage students to name and date materials—title them too. Have the date posted clearly in the room as a reminder. If you are working in the three-ring notebook, tell them which section to turn to and then give the assignment. If you are working digitally, have them open the appropriate tool and then save it immediately to the appropriate subfolder.

A thinking strategy I often in my classroom was “Think, Write, Pair, Share.” I would pose a question and allow students 1 minute to generate a list of ideas and capture those ideas on paper. Following the internal minute, I gave them one minute to share their ideas (and borrow some of the ideas were worthy). The goal was to generate and/or borrow twelve ideas. Before starting, I told student which section to open, reminded them to date the document (yes, the list is a document), and title for the document. At the same time they were entering that information on their doc, I was adding it to my list of documents for later reflection.

Step 3: When you ask students to submit materials for review—homework, process papers, quizzes—recognize students have a right to not submit. But, as their teacher, you have a right to conference with them about their work. Know too, that in this system, there will be no grade entered into the gradebook until after students have had time to correct, edit, and reflect. This is a formative process and these are formative assessments. To enter a low grade could act punitively against a student who later has fully grasped the concept. For the sake of recordkeeping, you may want to create a non-punitive checkmark system to analyze correlations of learning and growth with formative opportunities taken and not taken.

Step 4: With several days left in the unit instruction, review your list of formative practices (you may want to review your lesson plans to be sure you haven’t overlooked anything or mistakenly added a document never assigned). From the complete list, select documents that will be formally assessed and/or documents that took significant time during the unit. You will probably not choose everything–


Developing a audit system for formative work.

Step 5: Format your document with a header for Student Name, Date, Points Possible, Points Earned. Further format by creating a two-column set of lines for students to complete (see illustration at right).

Distribute the list to students a day or two prior to the audit. Urge them to be sure their files or notebooks are organized in such a fashion as to have the documents available and in the order you have delineated. Remind students they will need to have this one-pager in the front of their file on the scoring day.

Step 6: Score student work. This is a collaborative process. If you are using digital files, student will need to grant access to their scorer. If you are using three-ring notebooks, students will merely exchange.

Let me start by explaining the ✓ system you see on my example. Although this is not a perfect approach, it tends to work well because it provides cushions against minor slips.  A single ✓ is worth four points and considered to be full credit (works out pretty well mathematically). A ✓+ is worth five points and represents exemplar work. A ✓- demonstrates effort and at three points sits right in at 75% value. A ✓I shows students made some effort to do the work but is significantly lacking. The difference between a ✓0 and a zero is simply this…a zero means the paper isn’t even there. A ✓0 credits the student for attempting organization if not content learning.

Now…to actual scoring. Beginning at the top of the list, move through each item, reading what students are looking for in the folder/binder and how to value that document. As you see, I begin quite non-threateningly. Did the student bring the scoring sheet. If they did, they get a ✓+ and if they didn’t…they get a zero (the scoring sheet should be available with the other unit materials so even if a student forgot their sheet, they could have quickly accessed another without anyone being the wiser).

Teach students how to keep a running tally…so across from the checkmark symbol goes the score. By the time the scoring of the folder/notebook is complete, the score should be accurately calculated.

Go to the next item on the list. In my example, I’ve entered “Aspects of the Memoir.” When scoring, show the students what an exemplar would look like. If the student’s work reflects the exemplar, the student earns a ✓+ and from there, I say, if the student has only five of the six qualities listed, they earn a ✓, if only three or four of the six qualities, a ✓-, if only two or three, a ✓I and so on.

In cases where we are looking at a quiz that has been corrected, I show the exemplar. The student who earned 100% out of the gate earns a ✓+ and the student who has fully corrected their quiz earns a ✓. And from there I work backward…down to the student who has the quiz in the folder/binder without corrections to the ones who fail to include the document at all.

Scoring journal entries: this has developmental implications, but since students have several days and usually up to two or three weeks to really complete this work, I award a full page ✓+ while a three-quarter page entry earns ✓ and the half page earns a ✓- the quarter page a ✓I and the titled page with little to nothing earns the ✓0.

If the scoring is related to feedback I’ve provided on a page, I follow these guidelines: ✓+ the student addressed every point made by the reviewer; ✓ the student addressed almost every point leaving out only one or two and so on.

When the scoring is complete, students should have the final total at the bottom of the page and that total should be entered at the top in the appropriate place. On my example, there are 18 entries so the total points possible I would enter in the gradebook is 72. However, if a student were to earn a ✓+ on every item, that student would score 90 points. The effect of crediting what is typically formative work in the way that I approach scoring is one that encourages students to do the work. This process is quick and easy once everyone gets on the same page. In this process, I find students want to respond to feedback and make corrections because they see formative steps supporting summative reports. They want to keep up on daily lessons because they know the work will be revisited and not trashed. Again, not a perfect system, but a system I’ve found to be effective and supportive in the teaching and learning process.

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