In other words, I believe that in order for students to do the work of learning, they have to do the work--no matter how long it may take.
This little philosophy of mine hit home this week with a student I had this past school year. This student is the type of student that is not made for our traditional factory schooling methods. My student is the type of student who is hard to reach, and what motivates this student lies well beyond what happens in school. I admit that I failed at finding any motivation for this student in my class to learn all of the science stuff the State of Illinois says I have to teach.
But I still required my student to do the work of learning. I especially required all my students to turn in the final ePortfolio, which would show me the most recent evidence of understanding of all the science stuff. The student in question did turn in a portfolio; however, it was almost completely blank.
I could have resorted to detentions, admonitions, histrionics, begging, pleading, bribing, or cajoling. In the past I probably would have tried a number of those tactics. But I didn't. I gave this student an incomplete for the semester, with instructions to provide evidence of understanding for the science stuff by a specified deadline. Even after the student subsequently turned in a portfolio that was mainly plagiarized from various internet sources, I told the student that, even though I was required to input an "F" for the score at that point because I was being asked to give a score by our Guidance department, there was still an option open for the student to redo the portfolio.
And that's what this student chose to do. I didn't get a perfect portfolio, but I got one that was an accurate representation of what my student knew, containing original creations by the student, made in this student's own way.
I almost didn't give my student that last chance. I almost said this: "You're getting an F for the class because you've had all semester to work on this and then I gave you another chance and <add in the typical reasons for giving a child an F here that have nothing to do with what the student actually learned>." But as I was writing that in an email, I stopped myself. And then I decided to give this student one more chance to show understanding.
I had to remind myself this wasn't about how this student's behavior had irritated me or about satisfying the typical teacher urge to punish the plagiarism with an F, using a grade as a weapon. It was about giving students as many chances as they need to show what they know. It was about having the consequence of not doing the work be to do the work--because the work was an important piece of evidence of student mastery. It was about not letting a student take what I consider to be an "easy F" to get out of demonstrating their understanding--which I consider my students' main responsibility in my classroom.
I had to remember that this assignment was (in my opinion) important for this student's learning, so it was important enough for me to allow the student to get it done in the time needed. I think the lesson my student learned from this experience was better than any lesson issuing an F could have taught. But in order to do that learning, the student had to do the work--not escape it by taking an F.