A student hands in a paper a week late, and the next few moments could define the rest of their life. The teacher turns to the student and says
“I knew you could do it! I’m proud of you for getting this done. I’ll get it back to you as soon as I can and we’ll look at revisions to make it even better. As you know, the next paper is due at the end of next week; how are you doing on that one? Let’s work together this week to make sure you can get that one done on time.”
“This was due a week ago, I can’t accept it now,” and turns back to their computer.
*rolls eyes* “You have quite the nerve to turn this in this late; I’ll accept this one, but no more. Why can’t you ever get anything in on time?”
Which of these situations is most likely to help the student move forward? In which case do you think they are most likely to turn in future papers on time?
I’m currently working with some students in a math course designed to help them be ready for the next course despite prior failings. I had a conversation with a student and his family yesterday where I was able to convince them that 1) I cared that they succeeded in the course, 2) that I want them to actually learn the material to be ready for the future, to ensure that more opportunities are opened for them as they progress in education and life, and 3) that I would support them in their progress. That student went on to complete two formative and two summative assessments within a few hours after that conversation, after completing only one during the rest of distance learning. They emailed me 10-15 times and watched a number of clarifying videos I sent.
This was a student who needed to be shown support.
Students not completing work is frustrating, and having stacks of makeup work can be seriously overwhelming; I have seen no evidence, however, that zero-tolerance late work policies actually help students improve. Instead of doing better next time they simply lose hope.
One of the primary functions of our job is to inspire hope.
It is my hope that this hard time of pandemic shows us all that the support we are willing to extend because of calamity should be extended each and every day; that we should be supporting students, not shaming them; that we as educators can be the nudge that pushes them forward rather than the scoff that holds them back.
How else can we be the nudge rather than the scoff?