Recently I read a Tweet about the topic in the titular question of this post. It engendered a spirited but short lived flurry of posts. I’d like to spend a few more minutes reflecting on the topic here.
Authentic Learning & Teaching
As an educator, I try to base my decisions on a principle of authenticity. In other words, I try to make my decisions more on real-world norms than traditional school norms. I try to ensure that I am preparing students for the world beyond school, not for school. As a result, I try to make sure that the ways in which I assess students’ work is similar to the ways in which they would be assessed in a professional situation.
There are times when a professional can absolutely not be late: grant applications, proposals for conferences/speaking, . . . I’m not sure I can come up with a third example to make a series.
But adults can be late with almost anything else: publication deadlines, job evaluations, doctor’s appointments, taxes–even most bills have a grace period.
So if we are going to treat students authentically, we have to decide: Is this assignment one those things that absolutely cannot be late, or is it like most things which can allow some lateness?
How Does This Work?
I generally do not lower grades for lateness. There is one exception I can think of: take-home tests. For them, medical documentation is required to allow lateness. For other substantial assignments, here are my rules:
- Students must turn an assignment on time or submit medical documentation demonstrating why they couldn’t complete the assignment on time.
- If students require additional time, they must contact me PRIOR to the deadline to request an extension. I almost always grant an extension, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me. Virtually any reason works for me: I have had too many nights at work; too much work in other classes; I’ve been sick; I’ve had writer’s block; I’m confused about the assignment; I want more time because I know I can do a better job on this. As long as a student hasn’t made a habit of asking for more time, no problem.
- I negotiate the extended deadline with the student. I say, “What is the soonest, reasonable day by which you can do a good job on this assignment?” Assuming that date seems reasonable to me, I accept it. Interestingly enough, I often have to encourage students to take a little more time than they originally suggest.
- Students may NOT miss the extended deadline. If they miss it, I do not accept the assignment at all (without medical documentation).
The above rules almost always work out well. Very few students ask for extensions, and those who do virtually always meet the extended deadline. I find this fairly reasonable, authentic approach to deadlines works out well.
There are some who may say my approach encourages laziness or lack of attention to deadlines, but I don’t think it does. It does require a certain amount of maturity on the students’ part, and I try to use my meetings with them to help them develop that maturity. This approach may not work with younger students. And, if a teacher is so busy and has so many students that s/he can’t be this flexible with deadlines, this approach may not work either. But that doesn’t mean grading students down for turning in late work is a better alternative. It may be a less positive approach that is an understandable requirement of an overworked teacher.
What do you think? Does allowing students to renegotiate deadlines improve education, or does it encourage bad habits? What other aspects of late grades am I leaving out? What other approaches have you found useful? Please feel free to contribute your responses with comments.