(Singer, 2003, p. 36) Education should be a constructive process. Palinscar states that the teacher must assume an active and directive role by establishing the pace, content, and goals of the lesson. (Palincsar, 1998) Byra also described such a process of "task progression" through which content is broken down and sequenced into meaningful learning experiences. (Byra, 2004) the lesson learned from receiving fifty percent credit on a late assignment is not necessarily the lesson intended.
Each step in the academic process contributes to the learning process. An assignment is not merely research. It is not merely a grade. It is the sum total of the student's entire experience vis-a-vis that experience. (Bailey, Hughes & Moore, 2004, p. 32) a student who receives a grade of fifty percent because he or she completed an assignment late sees that arbitrary judgment of his or her work as a "lesson" too. Studies show that the difficulty encountered in such a task-request approach (i.e. The completion of the assignment followed by the receipt of a fifty percent grade) is viewed as an arbitrary situational cue - one that tends to produce a pattern of short cut behaviors with a tendency toward low organization. (Lehtinen, 1995, p. 26) a primary aim of assignment completion becomes the avoidance of academic penalties. Students lose sight of the real purpose of the assignments, thus losing the motivation necessary to complete work on time. (Evertson & Smithey, 2000, p. 294) the muddling of purpose carries over into other spheres of life, potentially affecting the young man or woman's future performance in the workplace. A common complaint in regard to young workers is that they do not seem to understand how to behave at work, have no work ethic, and do not do know what is expected of them. (Rhoder & French, 1999, p. 534)
Clarity of purpose is especially important in today's school environment. Like Central Florida High School, many American school populations are increasingly diverse. Students come from a variety of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Students' perceptions of their teachers are as important as their understanding of basic academic facts and concepts. African-American students often feel they are not being given the same consideration as white students, that they learn little or nothing during their four years in high school. (Banks, 2005) to illustrate the point that school exercises should contain meaningful lessons, Jessie Singer and Ruth Shagoury Hubbard devised an experiment in which high school seniors would push the boundaries of literary exploration by devising their own writing projects. (Singer & Hubbard, 2002) Students were instructed to write about their passions: clothing, animals, children, comic books, and so forth. The lesson that these two educators learned from this experience was that students put more effort into projects that are meaningful to them. (Singer & Hubbard, 2002) the project also enabled students to seen the relationship between a basic skill i.e. writing, and things of great personal interest to them beyond the classroom door.
The relationship between the material learned in school, and the skills and procedures necessary to acquire that information can be shown in many other ways, as well. Murata found that blocked classes could create close-knit units out of a large and unwieldy, ethnically and racially diverse student population. Block (or blocked) classes group classes according to common themes, thereby forming a single larger course or program. Studies have shown that this integration of material across disciplinary lines serves to increase student achievement, enhance critical thinking skills, and improve the overall atmosphere of the school while fostering a collaborative style of both learning and teaching and, importantly, a more diverse, inclusive, and pertinent curriculum enhancement that encourages students to think and learn for themselves (Weller & McLeskey, 2000, p. 209) High schools that have adopted the block class system have seen a rise in graduation rates a lessening of instances requiring disciplinary action. (Queen, 2000, p. 214)
The concept raises academic performance levels while seamlessly providing students with everyday examples of cooperative problem solving, personal and joint responsibility, and mutual understanding. The group ethos engendered by the block class program permits professionals and students from diverse backgrounds, and with a wide range of different knowledge and life experience, to come together to offer emotional support, and to design behavioral systems that are more in tune with the real needs of the school community. (Vitello & Mithaug, 1998, p. 49) Properly constructed behavioral systems eliminate many of the barriers to learning that can be erected when discipline is poor or lacking. The group approach teaches culturally-sensitive pro-social skills. (Utley, Kozleski, Smith & Draper, 2002) Students learn to respect the behavior and opinions of others, and hopefully, to understand why different individuals act and think as they do.
The individual assignments that make up the academic work of the school year reflect these broader aims of preparing students for the real world. Deadlines tell students that work cannot always been done at one's own pace; that the needs of others must frequently be taken into consideration. Assigning due dates to homework and papers gives young women and men an opportunity to learn to budget their time. Correct allocation of limited time and resources involves separating the important from the unimportant, and the essential from the inessential. The student is as much researching the skill of research, as she or he is digging out new facts. Getting things done on time can also include learning the skill of working well with others, and understanding those individuals' needs and constraints. It requires a sharing of resources and an evaluation of talents. Students must also be able to identify negative behaviors; to comprehend situations and ways of thinking that stand as barriers to the achievement of desired goals. They must be able to recognize ideas and prejudices that are unhelpful, and aid others in doing the same. These are the "hidden purposes" of any assignment. Joined together with the academic aims of the work, they provide a complete life lesson. Penalties for late assignments must respect these goals.
At Central Florida High School, late assignments commonly suffer an academic penalty of fifty percent. Regardless of the quality of their work, the effort which they put in to the assignment, or any of the other aims of the assigned work, students' grades are cut in half if their work is late. And since sixty five percent is passing, even a perfect paper receives a failing grade if it is late. This kind of academic penalty does not reward students for anything other than being on time. It punishes untimely effort, and denigrates all the other possible lessons of an assignment. Students who do not complete an assignment by the date it is due have little incentive to continue working on the assignment. Students who might be late with an assignment are encouraged to rush, to hand in sloppy and inaccurate work just to stay on schedule. The fifty percent figure is arbitrary and does not teach students the importance of weighing consequences and making value judgments. Teachers adopted the late mark because it was easy to figure out - just divide the on time grade in half and you are done - "easiest is best" - not usually the lesson we want to teach our children.
Administrative penalties offer an alternative to academic markdowns. Students who turn in homework and papers late can be made to attend a study hall. The purpose of the study hall would be one of further academic enrichment, and more of the other core values the school aspires to teach. Students would have to use their own free time to fulfill the study hall commitment, so it would still be a penalty.
But it would be a penalty with many positive purposes, corrective more than proscriptive. Students no longer would see their hard work reduced to failure simply because they missed a deadline. They would be able to focus on the real needs and aims of their assignments. Students who do not budget their time correctly can learn valuable lessons about how long it takes to perform research, how to arrange constructive meetings for group work, how to overcome problems with planning out projects - deciding hat is really important or necessary, and eliminating non-essential elements, etc. Those who do not finish assignments on time will have an incentive to continue working and complete the assignment to the best of their ability. Most importantly, high schoolers will understand the difference between "good" work, and "fast" work. In other words, they will learn real values.
This study will quantify the differences in achievement between an academic penalty plan for late assignments, and an administrative penalty plan for late assignments. All students participating in the study will be subject to both plans. In the first semester, students handing in late papers will receive an academic penalty of fifty percent off what would have been their grade for an on time paper. In the…