A couple of weeks ago, I posted about "The Power of I." It's part of a program for middle schools to use with students in order to increase student achievement. It is something adopted school-wide and is meant to be used with 12 - 15 year olds. I only mention all of this background because a couple of other bloggers went off on this idea and how inappropriate it was for college (and post-grad) students and how no individual teacher would be able to maintain such a program...even though these structures were mentioned the first time around. So, let's try this again, shall we?
If a 12-year old student who doesn't turn in her homework, then typically the kid receives a grade of "0" for the assignment and that is the end of things. What's so bad about that? Well, there are two problems here. One is that the teacher may not have any "proof" of student learning. Assuming that the homework was assigned to practice a skill (like reading comprehension), then it could well be that the kid hasn't learned the skill...a skill which is necessary to be successful in future learning. The kid has been excused from learning. Secondly, the teacher has used a score to punish a behavior, not evaluate learning. How will anyone be able to accurately interpret the grade later? Does a "C" for a course tell you that the kid has only learned some of the material...or all of the material, but not completely? Is it a kid who understands how to play the game in the classroom...making just enough effort? Or maybe a kid who knows his/her stuff, but doesn't choose to participate?
The idea behind The Power of I is to evaluate learning and behavior as separately---and to have a system in place which supports student learning. If a student doesn't do her homework, then she is assigned a consequence of staying at lunch or after school with a supervisor (not necessarily the teacher) to complete the work. She is not excused from the learning. Will this work with every kid? Nope. But at least one school I've talked to with this policy is only seeing 4 or 5 kids per week assigned to make up work. That's 4 or 5 kids schoolwide who have not completed an assignment. How many teachers out there have 4 or 5 kids per day who don't turn in homework? And student achievement? It's also gaining ground in these schools.
Think about how students shake out of all of this. Are there going to be kids who didn't prepare for class because things at home are troubled? Yes---but if you couldn't easily identify them from the masses before and get them some help...now you can. Are there going to be kids who didn't do the work because they don't understand the assignment? Definitely. What a great chance to intervene with some tutoring and keep them on track and at grade level with some support. Will there be some kids who abuse the system---skip doing the homework so they can get out of class (or don't do the assignment because they were out of town on a field trip the evening before)? That could well be the case. Some schools have some stopgap measures to deter this (can't play sports, be on the honor roll...).
I can't deny that a middle-school program like this takes buy-in from every teacher along with strong administrative support. But I also can't deny that kids are getting to high school without the tools they need to be successful. Perhaps we need to take a good hard look at what we're doing and see what we might need to be doing differently.