John Larrysson's Column: Late Homework

Another teacher told me about a big argument over marks at their school. The school received complaints from parents about the low marks their children got on homework assignments. The English teacher had deducted one mark, out of ten, for each day the homework was late. Eventually zero would be the only possible mark. These parents objected to the lower marks. They thought that their precious children should be able to hand in homework at any time before the end of the school year. They called the lower marks an unfair punishment.

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School homework and classwork is practise for the students. It is also assessed by teachers. We need to see how much progress is being made. We need to see if a student needs extra help. Time is part of the assessment. Taking a very long time to finish work may not show the teacher what problems the student has. If school work is not handed in, we have trouble helping that student.

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There is a difference between a due date and a deadline for school work. The word due is originally from the (Old) French word deu, which is the past participle of devoir meaning to owe. (Also the French word for homework is devoirs.) The original use of deadline was a rope on the ground around prisoners-of-war (US Civil War). The guards were to shoot and kill any prisoner who stepped over that rope! In school, for a due date there is a penalty for handing the work in late. It is like a bank charging a penalty for a late mortgage payment. For a deadline there is no penalty, late work is just not accepted. The late school work is dead!

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If a student takes a month to do an assignment, they have an unfair advantage over another student that does it overnight and hands it in on time. The fairest system, for all students, is a deadline, accepting nothing late, without a medical note.

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At that school, some teachers will keep reminding students of what late school work still needs to be done. These teachers will plead with their students to please-get-it-done-sometime. On the other hand some other teachers will stop reminding their students after the due date. The final school marks will come in and those students will fail. Having done so little school work they will also likely fail the exam as well. Is this what parents want? School work requires practice and assessment. It is part of teaching and learning. Without teaching and assessment, schools get reduced to babysitting.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE:Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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