Sunday, April 21, 2013

Confronting the Missing Assignments Monster

Missing assignments have long been a problem at our school—students choosing for a variety of reasons to just not turn in their schoolwork. It's a frustrating, vexing conundrum that saps time and energy from our learning environment. I've thought about and researched the problem ad nauseam; while there is no quick-fix solution, I've drafted a document that will hopefully help rein in some of the rampant missing assignments that plague our school.

Please don't feed
the Missing Assignments Monster
The document I'm sharing evolved from many hours of discussions among the teachers at our school—during team meetings, department meetings, staff meetings, etc. The purpose of this document is to help clarify the shared expectations and responsibilities among students, parents, and teachers at our school so that the business of learning can rightfully be the focus of our efforts and energy. While this document alone cannot eliminate every missing assignment, it is one piece of a complex systemic puzzle that seeks to rebalance the learning equation in our school.

Confronting the Missing Assignments Monster

As students become more independent in their middle school years, missing assignments can sometimes become a problem. It is important that students, parents, and teachers work together to ensure that missing assignments do not compromise our learning time and become a persistent educational challenge.

Students usually have missing assignments for one or more of the following basic reasons:
  • Not using class time wisely and/or not finishing/completing assignments (distractions, socializing)
  • Not finishing assignments at home (“I don’t have any homework” excuse)
  • Not turning in assignments because of forgetfulness (planning, organization)
  • Not turning in assignments because of avoidance (confusion, embarrassment, power struggle)
  • Not making up assignments after being absent (out of sight, out of mind)

For Students: What do I do if I have missing assignments?

Missing assignments do not go away magically—you must apply energy and work to eliminate them:
  • Be honest about missing assignments with your parents and teachers—do not lie, make excuses, or avoid your responsibility.
  • Turn in any missing assignments immediately, even if they are not done—incomplete is always better than missing.
  • Ask your teachers specific questions that will help you finish a missing assignment.
  • Evaluate your use of class time:
    • Are you distracted by your friends and socializing too much?
    • How will you reduce distractions and minimize socializing?
  • Create and follow a homework routine:
    • Do you have a regular time/place to do your homework that is free from distractions?
    • Do you check the online grade system at least once per week?
    • Do you review the online weekly notes every Monday and throughout the school week?
  • Practice organization and develop your organizational skills:
    • Do you use your planner in every class, every day to write down learning goals, assignments, homework, due dates, etc.?
    • Do you use study hall time well every week to help stay up-to-date with your schoolwork?

For Parents: What do I do if my child has missing assignments?

Missing assignments are first and foremost your child’s responsibility, so before emailing your child’s teacher:
  • Monitor the online grade system and the middle level online weekly notes regularly, at least once per week, to identify and discuss missing assignments quickly.
  • If your child has a missing assignment, ask your child why he/she did not turn in this assignment—ask for honesty and do not allow excuses.
  • Encourage your child to take ownership for the missing assignment and require your child to turn it in the very next school day.
  • Have a serious and heartfelt discussion with your child about using class time wisely and avoiding distracting situations.
  • Help your child develop good homework routines and regularly practice organizational skills to mitigate missing assignment problems.
  • Ask your child “learning” questions at home—encourage your child to teach you about what she or he is learning in classes at school.

Sometimes it feels as if you and your child’s teachers are stressing more about missing assignments and working harder than your child. In these cases, perhaps a dose of harsh reality is needed, especially as your child approaches high school. Allow your child to “fail,” but also to work through both the natural and your established consequences of missing assignments—be firm, be fair, be supportive, but avoid repeatedly bailing out your child if he or she is not being responsible.

For some students, the intrinsic motivation to get assignments done is not there yet. Do not teach your child that incomplete assignments are a reasonable choice or an acceptable option. You should give your child room to navigate their work independently; however, if they are not being successful, they need reminders (and follow-through) about established rewards and consequences. Start with both small and large goals: "If you have no missing assignments this week, then..." and "If you have less than two missing assignments this trimester, then..."

Many years of teacher observation and experience tell us that the best way for students to avoid missing assignments is to use class time wisely every day.

Please don’t feed the Missing Assignments Monster—stay focused on learning...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pre-Lab Science Safety Video

Science safety should always be the #1 priority in the laboratory. Reminding students to be safe before performing experiments is key to creating a safe laboratory environment for everyone. I created a one-minute video slideshow to help remind students about the common science safety expectations in the lab...