16 thoughts on “Zero Influence – Zero Gained!

  1. Tom

    Nice comprehensive post on the topic. This issue is still a “sticky” one for some teachers and parents. The main argument is that it promotes a lack of accountability and real world consequences. At St. Pat’s we have a “no use of indiscriminate use of zero’s”. This policy is supported by a comprehensive series of interventions for teachers and admin to access. We have a tremendous amount of success with it. I outline some of these interventions in my latest post Every Student, All the Time http://bit.ly/hFqMwg In our reality, once a student hits the upper grades using this approach they acquire extremely good work habits.

    Good post!

    • Thanks Johnny. I saw your post and thought it was great. Also loved the Pyramid of Intervention stuff as well…same conversations in my school district. I think I am going to be stealing some things from you!! Thanks for your comments!

  2. Well said and thank you! Its now the responsibility and obligation of school leaders to create systems to support the necessary changes. Rick DuFour has been promoting this for nearly 20 years as well as many before him.

    • Thanks Dwight. I do think that some teachers hesitate to make changes (like no zeros) because it’s uncharted territory…they are not sure how “the system” is going to support them in their efforts…especially if a student is completely disengaged. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. I completely agree with your statemnts about value of 0 as an indication of student learning. The problem, however, is moving teachers away from past practice as both a teacher and a student. When in doubt teachers will fall back to their own experience even if they know it is wrong. How do we convince teachers to close the gap between knowing and doing?

    • Hi Chris…thanks for taking the time to comment. Past practice for students is tough too. I have seen students ask for and even beg for a zero. It’s the path of least resistance. What are we saying if we just take the easyway out and give them a zero. We have to re-train ourselves, the students, and the parents. It’s not more accountable…that’s a myth…it’s less! Principals have to follow through with support for staff who make this shift, especially when a student refuses to complete the work. In the end…and I mean the VERY end…some students might fail. If so, zero wasn’t necessary as it is likely that there was insufficient evidence of student learning. Giving students every opportunity is what we do. If they are not successful it shouldn’t be because of anything we did…we can’t contribute to their rapid decline!

  4. Thanks, Tom, for putting this all together with all of the compelling arguments so concisely stated. I think that part of the culture that we’ve created over the years has been the “it’s all about the marks” culture. This might start as warnings in elementary grades that “you better do well because this one counts” and ends up with the threat of zeroes in higher grades. If we could move it to “It’s all about the learning” perhaps it’d be easier for us to see that not only are zeroes a poor practice, but so are other issues such as grading behaviour along with achievement and reducing scores on work submitted late.

  5. Tom,

    Thanks for the insights…I have been wrestling with a lot of what I do lately, wondering how much is based on my beliefs and how much is just follow the leader. Do you have any suggestions as how to start a change like you mention. Your comments above recognize the need for support ALL around, but what if that support is lacking? How can I begin a paradigm shift such as this?

    • Thanks for the comments, Tony. The support you need is form Admin, parents, and even students. Let them know that you are going to focus on learning. That doesn’t mean you don’t intervene when work is not handed-in. The ONLY thing I did differently was not punish in the gradebook. I kept students in at lunch, after school, or whenever it was convenient for me/them. The overriding message I wanted to send was that “I’m not prepared to let you fail…even if you want to or it’s easier!” For me, that is the message that has to trump all others. Zero is definitely easier on us…takes no effort to put it in the gradebook…but is that what we want? In the end…and I mean the very end…it is still possible that some kids fail. My focus was to make sure is what not because of me or any artificial practice I put in place. I’m going to do everything I can; low grades won’t motivate students to work harder to get things done. Thanks for taking the time.

  6. This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! You are turning the schools into subsidized daycares! NO kid can fail, no zeros, no detentions, no homework, no strap! What the hell are you preparing these kids for? its certainly not the real world! If you do not show up for work, you get a ZERO on your paycheck, possibly fired!

    Why are you so inclined against teaching these kids the value of failure?

    You want to build up these kids, stop cuddling them and let them face adversity!

    You are rewarding them for NOT doing their work! (assignment extensions).

    If a kid is so lazy they cannot be bothered to do an assignment, thats their own fault. They are making that choice and should face those consequences. How the hell are these kids suppose to pay their taxes on time as adults? After all, they never had to follow any deadlines in school!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read/comment Jeremy…can’t say I love your comments but that’s fine…you obviously have some strong opinions. Just to clarify, I think you are making some false assumptions about what I wrote:

      1) I never wrote that no kid can’t fail. However, I’m not prepared to fail a student in the middle of year for work that doesn’t exist. If it’s not in they are held accountable and have to do the work. If I use “0” and their new grade is still passing then they don’t have to. Your way allows students to opt out of certain portions of the learning. What would we be teaching our students by letting them pick and choose the work they complete. I might get fired in the real world if simply opted out of certain projects/assignments…my boss expects me to do all of my work. In my world all work is expected to be completed.

      2) I never wrote about detentions, HW, or the strap so not sure how it’s relevant.

      3) No everyone gets fired immediately…and there is a lot of space between being 14 and having a job that your mortgage, bills, family are dependent on. I know a lot of adults who are not immediately fired with every misstep/omission at work. Maturity is a major factor. Many high functioning adults l know talk about how they had no focus when they were in HS.

      4) There is no value in failing/not graduating. Nothing changes the life chances of any kid than not graduating from HS…it’s huge. I don’t think it’s a good life lesson…it’s too important and becomes a cost to society.

      5) Making them complete their work is hardly a reward. Your way rewards me for building up enough credit to opt out of the learning. My way says you have to do it all…hardly a reward.

      6) You assume every student who misses a deadline “couldn’t be bothered” and is “lazy.”

      I don’t know if you are an educator or not, but the threat of low grades and/or punishments has never proven to be an effective motivator.

  7. Tom, Very nice explanation. This has been a shift in thinking for many schools now. I support the idea of having kids do the work and a grade reflecting what the students know. The trick is finding the balance of teaching students that there is a purpose behind having a due date so learning is continuous and constructive and letting the students turn in the work without assigning a zero. Unfortunately, no system is perfect. Impossible to argue that late work is better than no work though

  8. Tom,

    I am a BC educator. Ideas regarding assessment are a constant topic at Pro-Ds in my district, including the topics you raise above. Although I would not go as far as Jeremy, above, I do share some of his concerns. I think that you’re coming from a good place, with a positive outlook on students and education, but I fear that it’s a naive one.

    When I was a student, I hated school. I received As and Bs in the subjects I enjoyed, but Cs in other subjects. I was a terrible procrastinator: without deadlines I would never have gotten anything done. All through post-secondary and even today, I need deadlines to keep me focused. I know that if I had been educated in a school without deadlines and without zeroes, it would have been disastrous. I needed those built-in structures to keep me on task. I needed the threat of late marks deducted or I would have been scrambling to complete assignments before the end of the semester. Today in my role as a classroom teacher, I don’t have the option of ignoring deadlines. I have to get my marks in to the office by a certain time or there will be consequences.

    I think your methods would work just fine with keen students, but I think you fail to grasp that for a good chunk of the teen population, schools are a drag: they’re places they go because they have to. There is a fundamentally antagonistic relationship between many students and their own educations. Again, this is not a universal: there are plenty of students who enjoy class and enjoy learning, but for the rest it’s about hoop-jumping. What do I need to do to get through this so I can move on and graduate? And those kids will take whatever shortcuts they can find. I know I did. I loved Science, and would spend plenty of time on those assignments, but French? English? If I knew my French teacher didn’t really have deadlines or didn’t give zeroes, I would have let that work slide.

    I do give zeroes, and although I accept late work, I stop accepting assignments after the term cutoffs. (no October assignments in March, for instance). I communicate with the kids to make sure they know what they have to get in and when I expect it.

    To reiterate: I’m sure smart, hard-working kids would excel in a system without deadlines and without zeroes, but I wonder if it fails the less-than-keen kids: those for whom school is a game. These kids are always looking for shortcuts, and I would argue the methods you propose offer too many of these shortcuts.

    (yes, I know your first counter-argument is that giving a zero is letting them off the hook for that assignment. But I disagree, because I pester kids to get their work in. If they don’t it’s a zero. If a hypothetical student in your class just never hands anything in either, they also get a zero, don’t they?)

    Anyhow, I feel like this has been a long, rambling post without a unifying thread, but it’s been written in bursts over a whole day at work, so i hope you’ll forgive me.

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