The carrot, the stick – and general leverage in Internal Assessment as an IB teacher

By Tuesday, January 21, 2014 No tags 0

Most IB teachers who have had a few years under their belts have experienced that “I seem to be trying to herd cats!” feeling towards the final deadline period of IA. Undersigned is no different – just older and thus a bit more crotchety (an Americanism that means “curmudgeonly”). Basically I am not prone to grant much leeway for your average 18 year old who is looking down the scope at final exams, university entrance and thus a life of hard work and just rewards.

I do not do re-takes for tests missed and I do not grant deadline extensions in any way, shape or form.

My reasoning is threefold:

  • Our students, gripped by the vice of teenagerdom as they are, would never dream of missing a flight or a driving lesson. Why would I accept being accorded a lower status?!
  • Our job is to teach – and that also encompasses using our human capital to prepare students for a far harsher reality than the padded walls of our school world.[1]
  • A Swedish proverb warns one of “…doing things that will cut the very switch someone else will use to whip one over the back at some point…” In other words, every student that gets an extension or a re-take means an additional five next month.

My students learn very quickly…as do a few colleagues who quickly discover that I mean exactly what I say and say exactly what I mean. By now you have already thought of a myriad very good reasons for granting re-takes/extensions – and yes, there are a number of valid reasons. Yet gleaning valid excuses from invalid is a bit like trying to see if one might be a little bit pregnant. The “little bit” has a tendency to become “a lot”. Increasingly I have seen colleagues persuaded by my arguments as they see that no student will miss one of my deadlines – whilst many colleagues spend wasteful hours re-jigging tests and/or chasing up/down students for last-minute DHL appointments.

For example, I have stated categorically that a student who misses a test does not get a re-take. I tired of tactical students missing tests full in the knowledge that stressed-out teachers would not have time to do a completely different test and list of correctives – and said students could thus get the test questions from other students. Any student who is ill has to drag him-/herself to school, do the test and crawl home. Any student that does not tell me of a planned absence when I set test dates does not have the right to miss the test…and thus, no exception.

As for getting IA scripts in on time, I put forward the following points:

  1. Be inordinately clear as to time lines and consequences at a very early date.
  2. Put all timelines, rules and regs to paper. I put these online now.
  3. Keep to your own rules! It’s like a gunfight; never pull it unless you are prepared to use it. Never jot down a rule you might feel obliged to rescind later on. You will be tested in this game of chicken and if you flinch you lose credibility. Again, like a gunfight or a Highland duel; you can only lose once.
  4. It’s quid-pro-quo; if we demand that students adhere to a timeline, we too must be prepared. I promise students feedback or corrected tests within a given time period – depending on how many students there are. If I miss a deadline, they too are allowed one elasticised deadline.
  5. Be prepared to explain and justify your stance with colleagues, school leaders and parents. The heat is worth it in the long run and many parents have actually written me thank-you notes for taking such an absolute position when they see the results.
  6. If you feel it necessary to grant an exception – as I have when a student’s sister was kidnapped or when a student was in an automobile accident – explain it to the rest of the class in a way where you are in effect asking if they understand why you are granting an exception.
  7. All feedback is in written form. This provides me with ample ammo to deal with the usual whingeing discussion along lines such as “…well you said…he said…she said…”

Here are my rules:

  1. There are three IAs and each one gets feedback. Dates for all three first drafts are given during the first month of IB1. In collecting (or, as now, receiving via email) the first draft, I set my own deadline for returning the scripts with feedback and I also set the deadline for final version. Anybody who misses a deadline for a first draft has thereby FORGONE ALL CLAIMS TO GET FEEDBACK! This is very strong leverage indeed as they know full well the value of getting clear written feedback by the initial person grading them.
  2. Anybody trying to slide through by putting in a rather dismal first draft and then relying on feedback to do a reasonable second draft is in for a surprise – I won’t touch it. Every year I state this before the first draft and every year a few test me on it. They fail. After that, nobody tries it.
  3. Put a reasonably heavy weighting on IA grades. As many schools now have on-line grade systems, this is increasingly easy to do. I use a weight of 20% for IA. (The remaining weights are 30% for section tests and 50% for end of term exams and mocks. No, “…nice personality in the classroom…” is not an IB grade metric.)
  4. Any missed deadline goes into the vortex of comment banks we teachers use when writing a reference. This too is pretty strong leverage! No student who has the forethought of university wants “Missed deadlines” in a reference.
  5. Anything handed in after a deadline does not exist. I make sure they get this by simply leaving my room and locking the door – or, if sent via email, replying “Late, no feedback” to any script arriving after the hour.
  6. When we are in the hectic process of finalising the IA portfolio to submit grades and thereafter a sample to the IB examiner, anything arriving after my final deadline gets tossed in the bin. I make sure that students see me do this at least once in every cohort. It makes an everlasting impression.

Does it work? Well, I’ve yet to have more than one or two out of a cohort of 45 students that did not adhere to deadlines. I’ve had students FedEx me scripts for final deadline and, my favourite, get a parent to drive 80 kms through a Swedish snowstorm to hand me a script at the airport! If the student in question cares about his/her grades then you do indeed have leverage!

Next post: how to help students get good marks – without bending the rules.


[1] Though I hastily point out how much I loathe the phrase often given by teachers ”…out in reality…” Excuse me? School is the largest workplace in the world. We ARE reality.

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