Have you ever looked at your grade book and been frustrated by the number of missing assignments? Zeros obviously have an adverse effect on student grades. To address this issue, there has been a lot of discussion about changing the way we grade or limiting the amount of homework given. These discussions should take place but I don’t want argue the pros and cons of those ideas. However, I do want to address the fact that we are ultimately concerned with students showing mastery. Missing work can make this challenging.
We (the adults) can adjust our thinking and strategies regarding missing work, however the constant truth is that mastery is the ultimate goal. For most students, it is going to be challenging for them to show mastery on assessments if they don’t complete the tasks and assignments that preceded the assessment. Why? Because there is a certain feedback loop that should take place between student and teacher before the student even attempts an assignment.
During my time in the classroom I did not find the magic bullet to solve the issue of students not turning in assignments. Zeros filled my gradebook with empty cells highlighted in yellow. However, I will share with you some things that helped me find some success in this area.
1. Talk to the student with the goal of problem solving
The problem ultimately is owned by the student. Keep this in mind and prevent yourself from burning out (I wish I learned this lesson earlier in my career). By listening to the student with the goal of helping them solve their problem, you are in position to offer valuable feedback. Feedback leads to potential adjustments that need to be made by the student. When students adjust based on feedback, they find opportunities.
2. Suggest a planner or digital organizer
Planning for the responsibilities and tasks that life will throw your way is a wise thing to do. Convincing students of this can be challenging. At the high school level, I have found it very difficult to get students to use a planner. I have had some success getting them to use apps. Currently, I use the To Do app by Microsoft and I highly recommend it. At the beginning of each day I sit down and type out all my goals (tasks) for the day. The ones that I complete, I make disappear and the ones I don’t can carry over to the next day.
3. Help the student discover their “Why”
My experience has taught me that students who don’t understand why they go to school tend to struggle keeping up with their school responsibilities. They may say the right thing regarding why they go to school but their missing work reveals something unspoken. You can help your students commit to excellence by helping them discover their “Why.” This revelation can lead to more motivation on the part of the student. Figuring out the “Why” can take some time but starting the conversation and helping the student begin that journey is very important. Here’s something that I would ask students to get started: What is it that you want to do in this world to make it better place for yourself and others?
4. Celebrate Progress
Sometimes, words of affirmation are what students needs to adopt habits that lead to work completion and submission. If you have a student how do used to accumulate a lot of missing work and is now making an attempt to change those habits, celebrate in a big way. Make sure the praise isn’t superficial, but identify specific things that you notice students doing differently. Praise tends to yield more of the desired behavior because students feel good when they receive it.
Missing work can be frustrating and can add extra tasks to your to do list. It can be especially frustrating if you aren’t getting support from parents or administration. Throughout it all, I encourage you to never give up. Remember that you can’t control the student and make them do the assignment, but you can help them problem solve why missing work is a challenge. Like all great teachers, we exhaust all of our tools, get some more and keep trying. You’ve got this.
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