Thoughts on Grades and Late Work

I’ve read two chapters from Cris Tovani’s book So What Do They Really Know? Among other wonderful insights, she discusses her viewpoints on grading and late work – two subjects that raise more questions than answers for me.

In relation to grading, she laments the difficulty of grading students on critical thinking and understanding. She grades in three ways:

  • give credit for completion
    • students get a grade for turning in a completed piece of work whether or not it’s “right”
    • allows students to not be afraid to make mistakes or take risks because they get points for effort
  • give points for growth and improvement
    • give a grade when students turn in drafts or are otherwise able to explain their thinking, learning, and improvement
    • use this strategy anytime students use formative assessment to guide and improve their work
  • give a grade for mastery and understanding
    • i.e. with a final paper, exam, or more or less summative assessment
    • the grade shouldn’t be a surprise because students were constantly assessed and improving up until this point

Tovani mentions that not everything has to be (or should be) graded.

Her late work policy was unclear other than that she accepted late work. Her reasoning is that students have responsibilities and hardships outside of school that may prevent their ability to complete homework on time. Others counter that students aren’t learning how to be organized, timely, or responsible if they don’t stick to deadlines.

Here’s what I would do: Set a deadline for all assignments and take 10% off for each day it is late. However, make it clear that students can ask for an extension (with no penalties) if they need more time to create a high quality piece of work. What is valued is not turning in homework on time but creating something of high quality that demonstrates the student’s highest abilities.  Basically, students must have a legitimate excuse and be able to show that they are working hard. To be successful with this policy, teachers and students will have to trust one another and students will have to be more or less on the honor system. Students will learn to be organized and responsible because they are all expected to turn work in by the deadline unless a hardship or exceptional circumstance arises.

I’ve also had teachers who allowed us to turn in work later than the deadline if we were clearly working hard (and had something to show for it) but needed some extra time to make the essay/project awesome. Again, what was valued was the product, not the deadline.

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