Closure, Packets, Grading, & Relevancy

What should our students do during a school closure? This is a question educators are facing throughout the world. Nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic is easy or normal. District and school administrators are doing the best they can to make appropriate decisions in the wake of so much uncertainty. Teachers are, too, and may be feeling enormous pressure to provide quality learning experiences from home. 


Many students are being sent home with packets of work. This can be fine, but I’m definitely concerned about the contents of the packets. We know that John Hattie’s Visible Learning research tells us homework has very little impact on student achievement. In the lower grades, the impact is almost nil. When that packet of little educational value is the cause of household arguments and stress, we should reflect about what truly is best for students and families. 

I have heard teachers say that workbook pages do a great job of “teaching” the material so students can do the work. This greatly concerns me. If a teacher believes this to be true, that teacher just made him or herself unnecessary and replaceable. The single most important influence on student achievement is the teacher in the classroom. Hattie’s research tells us just that. When you look at the Visible Learning List of Influences and Effect Sizes, what you see is that almost everything above the 0.4 hinge point (one year’s growth in one year’s time) is within a teacher’s control or influence. We need to be very careful about believing a worksheet can provide adequate learning. 

And, how can we be sure the work is being done correctly? My hall-of-fame high school basketball coach used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Correct practice makes perfect.” The inability to ensure our students are doing correct work causes more concern.

What about grading?

I do not believe these packets should be graded. In a world where equitable access to education and opportunities is of high concern, few things expose the level of inequity like packets being sent home. Not every student has adequate internet access. Not every student has somebody at home to assist with the work. Requiring students to purchase materials or supplies during this time magnifies more inequity. Many students do not have transportation for group work. All of these, and more, make grading even more challenging. 

What would these grades communicate…..Learning? Compliance?

Attaching grades to work is a way of telling students “do this or else!” It is a way educators wield power and control over students. It’s how we give meaning, purpose, and value to assigned work when there otherwise may be very little, if any. 

(Do teachers really want to grade all of those packets when students return??? Free yourselves!)

Students desire authentic, relevant work. They should use this time to read and write. They should be documenting this moment in their lives by recording their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and fears. Twenty or thirty years from now they will appreciate being able to read their reflective writing and remember what is was like to live through this historical period in time. 

We can help our students do just that. We should send them home with journals and writing prompts. Years from now, they will appreciate that we provided relevance to their lives during school closure and coronavirus. Truthfully, that’s what education should be all the time…providing authentic, relevant educational experiences.

The picture below is a great journal example from Bryan Shaw. You can also find it by clicking here

If you’re interested in reading more about packets, worksheets, and grading, Jennifer Gonzalez does a great job digging deeper in her Cult of Pedagogy blog post “Frickin’ Packets.” 

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.