Monday, February 21, 2011

Dealing with students who are behind – and late work

    It’s the bane of our existence.  Some schools require teachers to accept late work right up until the end of the marking period, while others just say, you earned a zero.  While my school’s formal policy is late = zero, I’m a bit more lenient.  I work with mostly middle schoolers, who often find organization a personal challenge.  I also have students who get sick.

    One would think that online work would be perfect for these students – since they can make it up from home.  But some just don’t do it, while some are too ill.  Meanwhile, the rest of the class has moved on.  What’s showing on the class Moodle then changes, and that’s the problem.

     From a purely practical standpoint, I have found it really helps my students if I place what we’re working on front and center with clear instructions about what we’re doing right now.  This is extra work for me, but the payoff has been worth it in students 1) doing what I want 2) without asking constant “what are we doing” questions. I already organize work by units, and put those most current closest to the “top” of the Moodle.  Middle schoolers don’t have the patience to weed through the typical Moodle scroll-of-death list of dozens of activities, forums, and resources. 

    The problem comes when I de-clutter, by making earlier activities disappear. (I want to use the activities next year, so I don’t delete them.)  Now that those activities are effectively gone from a student’s point of view, what does the returning student then do?  I can either “forgive” the assignments, because they don’t show any more, or I have to find a way to give the student that work. 

    In the K12 world, kids get seriously ill and then come back to school to continue the school year.  It’s not like 8- or 16 week college level courses, where students who missed too much of class often just have to repeat the course another semester.  In K12, we really want to avoid making a child needlessly repeat an entire year of work.  Even if students only miss two weeks of work, they will then need to do current work, plus catch up on all class work and homework that was missed, in multiple subjects.  Catching up can take awhile.

    While I still require the reading and writing assignments be made up, I’ve been forgiving old discussions.  Let’s face it – there is no discussion if you’re the only one “talking.”  So perhaps the solution there is to ask the student to read the discussion postings, then write a response to them.  Aha!  Thank you, blog, for helping me find my way to that solution.


  1. Ahh... late work. This would be so easy if we knew what the students were telling us was true:) I know that this is a constant struggle for many (if not all) online educators. As you noted, many times we are tied to the rules of the school, and that is fine. Sometimes that makes it easier for us and other times it can make it challenging.

    If I could offer anyone a piece of advice it would be to be firm, fair and consistent. As much as much as we want to treat each student equally, we need to understand that they do have individual issues. Late work will always be a struggle, but at the end of the day, you will know what is right.

    Thanks for the knowledge!

  2. Good point - sometimes our hands are tied by the school's rules. It seems that the instructor can be more lenient, should the occasion require it, but not more strict. Thanks for writing.

  3. I have spent a lot of time thinking about late work lately, and I really appreciated this post. I love the idea about writing a response to a discussion. This would work well in my off-line classroom if i can create a pod cast of the IRL discussion. My latest idea of a late policy is detailed at

  4. Analiese - I like the idea of the podcast - thanks for sharing.