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Not only is late work an annoyance and a far-too-common occurrence, but it also raises a number of questions about how we deal with it in the art room. Should students be punished for turning work in late? How should grades be affected? What are the best ways to motivate students to finish their work? Jenn Russell joins Tim to answer these questions and more in today’s episode. Full Episode Transcript Below.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
There are a lot of minor annoyances when you’re an art teacher. I can just ask you, what annoys you and a plethora of things come to mind. For me, it’s when kids consistently show up late to your class, when brushes don’t get washed correctly. Supply orders that come in incorrect, when your kids are hanging work for a critique and every third or fourth drawing is hung up crooked. It’s like, “Take some pride in your work. You can spend 15 hours on a drawing, but you can’t take 30 seconds to make sure it’s hung up straight?” That really bothers me. I’m obviously exasperated by that one.
But the point is, even that is nothing for me compared to just having to deal with late work. One of the things from day one that I hated most as a teacher is trying to figure out, how do we get late work in, should students be punished for turning things in late? How do we deal with that grade-wise? And just everything that surrounds the concept of late work. But I don’t want to dwell on all the negative parts that come with that. I want to talk about how we can solve some of those problems or how we can deal with late work in our classrooms.
So I invited on one of my favorite people, Jen Russell. And we’re going to chat today about late work, about how we handle it in our classroom, and we’ll go wherever else the conversation takes us. Before that, however, there is a new course from The Art of Education University that I am very excited to tell you about. Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity is a new course that is launching in July. If you want to check everything out about the course, you can head on over to theartofeducation.edu/courses. This is a one-credit studio course, and it’s designed to give you the opportunity to dive into ideation and brainstorming techniques, critiques, virtual galleries, reflection about artwork. All while you’re completing hands-on work with the media of your choice.
So it is a great opportunity to get back into art making and everything that goes along with quality art making this summer. So like I said, if you want to sign up or just learn more about the course, go to theartofeducation.edu/courses, and you can check everything out there. Okay. Let’s talk about late work.
Jenn Russell is here with me now, Jen, welcome back to the show. How are you?
Jenn: Good, I’m good today. How are you?
Tim: I am doing well. I am excited to chat about late work and procrastination and all of the great things that go with it. And this actually hits pretty close to home for me right now because my son just finished a self-portrait. He’s in fifth grade and we’re just now starting to be able to do things realistically. His teacher had him do it on a grid and he works so incredibly slowly.
Jenn: That’s not what I thought you were going to say.
Tim: No, no. So it took him forever. He spent way too much time, like hours and hours on this little adorable fifth-grade self-portrait. And it really stressed him out. She’s like, “Oh, by the next time we have art class, these need to be done.” Which is completely fair. That’s what we do. And it really caused him a lot of problems. He got to that day and he still wasn’t done had to finish shading. And luckily his teacher, she was very kind. She was like, “Just bring it to me by the end of the day and it will be fine.” He stayed in from recess and like finished his self-portrait and it looks great. I’m very proud of him. I was very thankful to his teacher for giving him that extra time.
And so anyway, hopefully that can kind of inform our discussion today, all about late work and how we deal with it in our classrooms. So let me just start with a first question here. Do you accept late work? Why or why not? Do you have due dates with stuff? What does this look like in your classroom?
Jenn: I do accept late work and this is why, sometimes you just don’t feel it. And I don’t know how else to say it. I don’t know what else to do about it. I can’t force and if, you don’t know me, I feel like I talk a lot. I’m sorry. I teach high school. It’s one of the perks and the curses about teaching the big kids is that you can’t force them to do anything, but also, if they don’t want to do anything, they just sit there.
Tim: Yeah. They’re just not going to do it.
Jenn: Yeah, they’re just not going to do it but they’re also not going to disturb anything because they’re just going to sit there, which is great. It’s like my favorite thing ever. I’m like, “Awesome, just don’t have a meltdown in my class.”
Jenn: But I accept late work simply because, there’s no way to know what’s going on in every single one of my kids’ lives unless they tell me. And if I go up to my kid and I say, “Hey, do you have this?” And they’re like, “No.” And I’m like, “Well, why not?” And I come at them from that point or from that side, I’m going to get a melt down out of my kid.
Jenn: Instead of being like, “Is there something I can do to help you or okay, that’s fine. Bring it to me … Today is Tuesday. Can you just bring to me by Friday?”
Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jenn: Because I don’t know what they go home to. And our school is supremely diverse. Our demographics are … They just range. I mean, we have such a wide range of demographics. We have kids who are in like half a mil dollar homes. And we also service students who are in mobile homes. And we also have a population of students who are insecure or having insecure housing or food insecurities. The range is too big. I don’t know what I’m going to get. And just because you have an awesome house, does it mean that the situation inside it is great. And so I accept late work. I mean, I have due dates.
That’s it. My grade book closes up in nine weeks and I can’t do anything else about that. So you literally have nine weeks to turn your stuff. I would love for you to turn it in on time, but I’m going to put a grade placeholder, a 50, and if you don’t do it, then it stays. A 50 is going to take your grade but what I’ve found is that grades aren’t necessarily a motivator unless they’re that kid, And I have very few of those kids.
Tim: Yeah. That is not a huge motivating factor.
Tim: When I first started teaching, I was like, “yeah, late work is fine.” But I didn’t really know why and so I spent a lot of time reflecting on that and kind of came to those same conclusions where, art classes, not the most important thing in my kid’s life. Maybe it is for a couple of kids, but it’s not high on the priority list. You can’t say, “Oh, you have to have this done. You have to spend your time on this.” They’ll get to it when, when they get to it. And what I always tell my kids and this was one of the conclusions I came to is, I’d rather have good work that’s a little bit late than crappy work that’s turned in on time. It’s not worth it to me to have a kid rush through something and get done just so it’s done on Wednesday, the 17th. That doesn’t mean anything to me.
If your work’s going to be 25% better, because it takes three more days, take those three more days. I think that’s really, really worthwhile. But that also brings up a question for me between kids needing more time versus kids who aren’t interested, those kids that we were talking about that just there. Do you differentiate between kids being late and kids being lazy? Is there a difference for you between kids who are like being perfectionists and it’s taking a while versus kids who are just procrastinating or just not doing it?
Jenn: Yes. As my children like to say, any other word other than pandemic, we’re in a Panera. That’s my favorite one. I also heard Panda-mix. I was like, “Oh, a mix of pandas. I do like that.” Yeah. So I get little warnings from like my supervisors of like, “Hey, 15 minutes and then take 15 minutes behind the shield.” And I’m like, “I can’t do 15 minutes with my kids only. I can’t do these intervals.” So I walk around all the time and I tell my kids. I’m like, “Hey, today is in fact Wednesday. This is project is in fact due on Friday.” And I realized, funny thing that this polar bear in a snowstorm is looking the same as it did on Monday. So weird, just so you know, it needs to be something by Friday.
And so those are reminders, but I’ve already made that mental note like, “Hey homegirl, she’s not going to cut it.” She’s probably going to start hauling tail on Thursday. It’s due Friday at the end of class and she’s not going to make it. And she might ask for time. Usually, if my kids are bumps on a log on Wednesdays, they’re just not feeling the project. And I asked like, “Hey, is there something else that you want to do?” I have a kid right now who just wasn’t into the project that we were doing, but he was really about doing these anatomy studies. And he was like, “Well, I’m really interested in just making my characters look more like realistic and not like humanoids, but like actual humans.” And I was like, “You know what? How much have you done?” And he had like, literally half a notebook full of these studies. And I was like, “Why don’t we do this as a grade? Because you’re obviously not into the thing that I assigned, but you need to let me know so that I can give you something else that we can talk about why you’re not into it. And I can help you instead of, this tanks your grade and further pushes you away from me and my class.”
Jenn: I walk around or whatever past my 15-minute limits and I noticed that, but it’s super hard to do virtually.
Jenn: Like really, really difficult to do virtually. I mean, you can tell when the project’s been rushed, so that’s not an issue, but by then, they’ve already turned it in. I put a note on it like, “Okay, can you maybe redo it, if you would like a higher grade.” And that’s, as far as I can go virtually, which makes me really … I hate it.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah. That’s always tough. And I think that’s good to just give kids the opportunity where I say, “Hey, right now. This is like a B minus. But if you make changes X, Y, and Z, or if you spend more time on this, like turn them back in and your grade can be better.” Like you said, sometimes kids are just not feeling it and not just not wanting to do that. How often do you find that happens? Where kids are like, “Oh, this is dumb. I don’t want to do it. Can I do something else?” Does that happen to you a lot?
Jenn: It doesn’t happen to me a lot. It’s happened a lot more this year. And I am just saying that, that’s a byproduct of the Panera.
Tim: Of the Panera, yeah.
Jenn: Everybody is just on their own assignment. I’m like, “We’re on survival mode here. Whatever brings you joy in my class, whether that’s this assignment.” And I’ve also given them a variety of choices this year. So they just have to pick one of the two or one of the three. This year has been obviously, an interesting one. And so they’ve just been like, “Yeah, I’m not really feeling anything.” And then that’s when I’m like, “All right, let’s take today, but tomorrow you have to come back like 200%, makeup for today and also do work for tomorrow.” And so, they usually just take a day. I mean, I need a day, right?
Tim: We’ve all been there, we’re there quite frequently.
Jenn: Right. And so, but normally it doesn’t, it only happens every once in a while because they’re in pods of eight. And so, if everyone at the table is working, they’re going to be like, “Well, all right.” And then just reluctantly do it. They might not like it, but then they do it anyway. Peer pressure is really coming in clutch.
Tim: When you teach high school, you’ll take anything you can get. I want to talk about that in just a second, how we do motivate kids. But I have another question that I was thinking about while you were talking there. What do you do if like an entire class is not feeling it, or maybe the project’s not going quite as well as you want or things are just moving really, really slowly? Do you change due dates? Do you move on from project? What happens, if like the whole project is just not going how you want or how your kids want?
Jenn: I’ve done both. I’m like … Because they don’t know this reference, but y’all will. I poll the audience. And so I’m like, “Okay.” And I have a bell and I ring this bell and it’s like in the middle of the class when I’m like over it. And I’m like, “This is sucking and I hate it, you hate it. We’re all miserable. What is going to help? Should I push the deadline?” I mean, if I see that they’re all not going to finish, but they’re all working on it, then that’s not about a deadline. Right?
Jenn: But if they’re not working on it, I’ll ask them. “Okay. Is it more time needed or different project?” I mean, they’re all going to like say different projects. I’m like, “Okay, cool. But now we need these three skills covered. What are we going to do?” And then I give them like 15, 20 minutes to research, which is usually for them like Pinterest or Instagram or whatever.
Tim: Right, just get on their phone and yeah.
Jenn: Yeah. And so I usually have like two or three ideas, and then I have them vote on that. And I’m like, “You can’t change this one, you do this one.” And they’re like, “Okay, I will do it.” And then I’ll look at it. And the next day we will re-lecture, re-demo and restart.
Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jenn: But I tell them not to get rid of it, especially for like AP portfolio or whatever, that’s part of a process. That is an example of something that didn’t work and we have to figure out why it didn’t work. I especially, have to figure out why it didn’t work, because that’s definitely on me. It’s like, when you have to reteach something as a teacher, why did your assessment not function? And so I definitely want to know. And so I’ll sit and I’ll ask my kids. I’m like, “Step into my office. Why? Come sit at my desk, why didn’t it work?” And they’re like, “Well, it was boring. And I wasn’t really like getting it.” Or whatever, or a lot of times it was below their level. I underestimated them.
Jenn: And so they were bored and they were just like, “Well, we did it.” And I was like, “Okay, sorry.”
Tim: Yeah, that happens. That happens.
Jenn: And it’s fair. Yeah.
Tim: Yeah. I was going to say, I do things pretty similarly. I feel like, if you’ve been in the classroom long enough, you have a feel whether it’s a move on from this, or just a little extra time thing. Your kids can confirm your suspicions there. Like, “Guys, I get the impression that we don’t want to finish this, is that correct?” And they’re like, “Yeah.” You can feel this like sense of relief just sort of wash over the class.
Tim: And then what I’ve done before is, I think I should take your idea and let the kids do their own research, but what I’ve done before is, be like, “Okay. Well clean up, work in your sketchbooks for a little bit. Tomorrow, we’ll start fresh.” And I’ll come back with like three options and say, “Hey, we need to develop these skills. We can do option one, which is this project. Option two, which is this, option three, which is this.” And I’ll just let them choose which of the three they want to do. And so it’s a little bit of a crutch for them, where I’m coming up with ideas, which is sometimes what they need, sometimes not. So I always hesitate, but it has worked really well for me to give them some options and then they can respond to what they liked the best. And they’re usually pretty motivated at that point.
Tim: I would just say to whoever’s listening to this, don’t be afraid to move on from projects, don’t be afraid to scrap that. Like you said, talk about the process because sometimes quitting and moving on is part of the process and you can always go back, you can repurpose that. You can change it in something else. Like have them keep it, but don’t be afraid to move on.
Jenn: I mean, I think it’s just the … Sorry, you just pick your battles and you don’t have to die on the hill every time.
Tim: Yes, exactly. You can accept the fact that maybe you failed at designing this lesson. That’s okay. People aren’t going to think less of you as a teacher, if one of your lessons doesn’t go as planned. Okay. So Jen, one last question for you. As I said, I wanted to ask you about motivation because as we know, high schoolers are notorious for not wanting to do things, but sometimes they just have to, they have to finish things. So the question is, how do you motivate your kids to finish? Is it a one-on-one talk with them, where you are understanding and you come up with a plan or do you like call in reinforcements? Do you talk to parents? Do you talk to coaches and try and get some outside help? What works for you, is it different for every kid?
Jenn: For me, it’s definitely different for every kid. I put a countdown on my board just so that it keeps the class on track. You all, I talked about a Bitmoji classroom and while I am not on the full board, a lot of people are. I do use my Bitmoji and she is precious and adorable. And she makes an appearance on my board and she has just numbers. And that’s the amount of days you have left to turn this in. And so it’s just a funny little reminder. Instead of me standing in the front and be like, “You have to five days to finish this.” I’m not going to yap at my kids like that. Especially my AP kids, because they are on an actual deadline that is not movable.
But it’s different for every kid. And I have done a lot of non-traditional methods to motivate my children. When I started at this high school, because of the way my schedule worked, it coincided with athletics. And so I got a lot of athletes because I was the only class that fit into their schedule, random how the new girl happens with that. It’s so weird how that happens. And so I had a lot of athletes and one class specifically, I had a lot of football players and they were always late to my class. I’m like, “Do y’all show up late to football? And they’re like, “No, coach would kill us.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, cool.” And so I would just ask them random questions like that every day. And they’re like, “Why are you asking us all about this stuff?” And I was like, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll show up with posters at your practice one day.” And they’re like, “No.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay. Awesome.”
I showed up with posters at their practice one day, because if you’re not … It’s fair. You don’t know me, but I’ve shared with you several times that I want you present in my class and not just physically present, but you need to be giving it some sort of effort. And so I just went to practice and I held posters over my head. Number 75 is in my class, his grade is similar to his number, he can do better. Te coaches were like, “You could’ve emailed us.” And I was like, “Fun, I did email you twice. It went unnoticed.” So They learned their lesson. They’re like, “Okay, Russ is crazy.” I’m like, “I didn’t like that word, I just am persistent.” Parents are the last line of defense for me, because my kids don’t like that. I don’t like talking to parents either if I can help it.
Tim: No, it just puts kids in a bad situation at home and so that’s usually the last resort. I’ve been lucky in my career to work with coaches who care a lot about academics. And so I can say, “Hey, they’re struggling. What would you suggest?” And almost always the suggestion is, “Well, if they’re not done by whatever day, then we’ll have them sit out of practice.” And oh, they’re sitting out of practice. They’re going to miss the game. They’ll support us by just talking to the kid and be like, “Hey, you better get this done. Otherwise, you’re going to not get playing time.” And that’s always a huge motivator for those kids that play sports. But it also works for kids who are doing debate or kids who are in band or whatever. Just calling on other teachers has always helped.
I coach basketball also, and there’s been a lot of days where, I have kids in full uniform just sitting off to the side doing their math homework. When kids know that you’re serious about that and like you said, it’s not just sports. It might be forensics or … That’s speech for everybody, by the way, forensics.
Yeah. It might be speech and debate. It might be Quizbowl, it might be Spanish class or French class. Whatever your kids are into, talk to those teachers.
Tim: And usually that support can be huge.
Jenn: Right. And to be fair, that was my very first year of teaching high school. And so no one knew who I was on campus. I was just this like, a small, loud girl that just persistently emailed but no one had seen my face. And so they were just like, “I don’t know this name.” And I was like, “Oh, it’s okay. I can rectify that really quick.” I will just walk down there. I will introduce myself. And that was just the first year. I’ve had coaches come sit in my class and be like, “Oh, I just want to see what he does.” I was like, “You don’t have to do that.” Once I tell them that you’re on the way, it’ll fix itself.
Tim: Yeah, it usually takes care of itself.
Jenn: But yeah. So I just, I do love that.
Tim: And to be clear, I’m not saying that showing up at football practice with signs is a bad idea. I’m just saying that there are additional options also. It’s good. Cool. All right. Well Jen, I think that’s a lot of good ideas for people, so we can wrap it up there. Thank you so much. It’s been an enlightening conversation and hopefully helpful for people. So thank you.
Jenn: Yeah. Thanks.
Tim: Thank you to Jen for coming on. I always love talking to her and though she deals with some things differently than I do. I think we’re in agreement on some of the best ways to handle late work, handle our procrastinators and how we deal with moving on from a project, either for an individual or for the whole class. I will have to have Jen on again soon. I know she is always a really popular guest and everyone loves hearing from her, but until we can get her back, go check out the new course called Rediscovering Your Artistic Identity. And hopefully we can dive into that course a little bit more, learn more about it in the next week or two, before it gets started.
Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will be back with you next week.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.