Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pizza for Points

I've really struggled with my late work policy. First of all, it's nice to know when to expect a weekend of full of grading. More germane to my students, they need to learn that in the real world, there are deadlines. You need to meet them in order to keep your job, renew your driver's license, or not default on any sort of loan repayment. But those deadlines have real consequences, right? The consequence for not turning in work in high school is that your grade suffers to the point you may have to repeat a class. For someone who already dislikes school and feels unsuccessful there, is lowering his or her grade going to teach any sort of lesson?

The answer is no in my classroom, apparently. Last semester I had no late work policy except that work had to be turned in by the end of the six weeks. Driven to distraction by the constant grading, I decided that this semester I would take off two points for every day an assignment was late. We're on a four-point grading scale, so this gives students one "gimme" day and then they'd drop a third of a letter grade the next day. Seemed reasonable to me. I didn't consider, however, that of course these students aren't motivated by "good" or "bad' grades. If they were, they wouldn't have ended up in my classes. Late work has not been any more or less of a problem this semester than last.

So, I've decided as the only person in the room who definitely values education, as the person responsible for teaching these kids to do work in which they can take pride, I would hound them. I would round them up as they walked the halls in the morning and make flashcards to review for that quiz they never made up or plug in a computer and talk through a thesis statement. I still had a lot of missing work.

On Wednesday, we had a breakthrough. I offered pizza after school to any one who wanted to come and do make-up work as the six weeks ended Friday. I had twenty-five students show up. I ordered the pizza once everyone got there so they had to work at least forty-five minutes before grabbing their slice and leaving. Most people stayed after the pizza came.

I went from eighteen Ds and Fs to six. Three of those Fs will get incompletes for the six weeks as they all had some sort of long-term medical absence. So, I have three Ds and Fs to work really hard on as we begin the new six weeks on Tuesday.

Some people might think I'm coddling these kids, setting them up for real failure in a world that doesn't allow flexibility for deadlines. Well, let me tell you about my last two semesters at the University of Virginia. I got an extension on every single paper in the first semester of my last year because I had mono and that was the only way to avoid a medical withdrawal. My last semester, I had more extensions as I traveled for job interviews and figuring out post-graduation life. I made Dean's List twice. I got inspired to become a teacher. I started to feel successful at college in a way I never did when I tried to hold myself to the same standards as kids who had gone to more rigorous high schools and had a better idea of what to except from the work. I decided to come back for more a year later. All because some teachers decided it was important that I do the work well rather than hew to some arbitrary deadline.

I want my students to see that if they work hard and turn in quality work, school can be a good place for them. If it takes thirty bucks for pizza and deadline flexibility to teach them that valuable lesson, I say that's a small price to pay.

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