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Students Will Miss Deadlines. How Teachers Should Respond (Opinion)

One thing that most of us did—at least once—when we were students was to turn in an assignment past the deadline.

And we certainly all have students who do that on occasion today.

This two-part series will highlight different ways teachers respond to this situation.

‘Do-Overs’ Are Allowed Outside of School

Chandra Shaw has more than 24 years of experience in education, as a teacher, reading specialist, instructional coach, and now a literacy consultant at one of her state’s regional service centers. Chandra is a TEDx speaker and amateur YouTuber:

As a teacher, I believe in offering opportunities for students to turn in work after the due date. While some argue against this practice, touting the need to teach students about the “real world” or thinking that it creates a burden for teachers by increasing their workload, I believe that it aligns with teaching the principles of empathy, flexibility, and understanding, which are crucial skills needed to overcome “real world” challenges.

During my first few years of teaching, I subscribed to the “no late work” mentality, mainly because that’s how my mentor teacher did things. If I did accept late assignments, there was an increasing scale of 10-point deductions that were added for each day an assignment was late.

I thought I was preparing my students for the “real world” and teaching them responsibility. It wasn’t until I began reflecting on the amount of time I was spending responding to parent inquiries about grades or creating alternative assignments to see if students had really mastered the content I was teaching that I began to look for a better solution to the late-assignment issue.

I happened across the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom by Rick Wormeli. The ideas presented in this book really spoke to me. This book made me see all of the instances in the real world in which people get a “do over” in full for some pretty important things. In the real world, people are allowed to retake certification exams multiple times without score penalties.

I also thought about the important reports that I myself was able to submit late without any real penalty. I mean, how many times was my attendance submitted late or that someone forgot to clock in on time? In those very important instances, adults were being allowed to turn in work late. That didn’t automatically make me any less responsible. In fact, it made me try harder next time or develop a system for setting a recurring alarm so that I wouldn’t forget again.

From then on, I began to allow students to submit work after the due date. I did ask that they were open about the reason the assignment wasn’t completed and that they have a plan for its submission.

Sometimes, they’d just forgotten to do the assignment. Other times, I’d learn that a student who was tasked with taking care of several siblings didn’t understand the assignment once they finally got a moment to begin working. It was far more important for me to know if they were growing and achieving mastery rather than if they were simply complying by turning in a specific assignment on a specific date. I think this taught my students to advocate for themselves. It also taught them that flexibility and understanding are also important parts of being responsible.

Communicating With Guardians

Stephen Katzel is the author behind “Win Your First Year of Teaching Middle School: Strategies and Tools for Success.” He is an educator with a passion for middle school education and helping new teachers:

Turning in work past the due date is always a hot topic in school communities because teachers want to balance supporting students who struggle with work completion while at the same time helping guide them to learn the importance of due dates and deadlines. There is no blanket statement or answer that can fully address the topic of late work because each situation is unique.

Before spending time developing a policy for turning in late work, ensure that your school or academic department does not already have a policy in place. If there isn’t a set policy, my recommendations are always to err on the side of flexibility and create structures to support students turning in work. If you have a late-work policy where you won’t except work after a specific time period, students that fall behind may give up on the course for that specific grading period because they feel like it is a lost cause.

In my time as an educator, I have always advocated taking off 10 percent of the final assignment grade if students turn in an assignment 1-2 weeks after the date. Any assignment turned in after two weeks has 20 percent taken off. Having this structure allows for students that are behind to catch up and believe that they still have a chance to pass the course.

You may be thinking, “What if a student doesn’t complete any assignments, and then turns 15 assignments in the day before the marking period ends?” While this could happen, developing structures to ensure that students do not fall too far behind in work completion will ideally mitigate that scenario from happening.

If you notice that a few students are struggling with work completion a few weeks into a grading period, develop a contact list with their parent/guardian’s email addresses. Each week, send out a BCC email to the contact list, notifying the parents of all the assignments that week and the due dates, in addition to the late-work policy of losing 10 percent to 20 percent based on when an assignment is turned in. Having a brief email describing what assignments are due allows for you to garner the support of parents at home.

In many instances, I have had students complete work and forget to turn it in. My brief email home allowed for follow-up after school hours and typically leads to students having an increase in assignment completion. In addition, if I notice that a student is struggling with work completion, I make a brief phone call home. Some students may have extenuating circumstance such as taking care of a younger sibling, family difficulties, etc. Being aware of what is occurring and developing a plan with the student and parent will also increase work completion. My policy ideally teaches students the importance of due dates, all while making connections with their parents at the same time.

‘Teachable Moments’

Kelly Owens, M.Ed., is a reading interventionist and Wilson ® Dyslexia Practitioner who enjoys sparking educators’ professional reflections via her contributions to MiddleWeb, The King School Series (Townsend Press), and Emmy Award-winning “Classroom Close-up NJ”:

Due dates help structure our learning process so we can meet goals. But does one size fit all? As much as we hope students will internalize and honor due dates, realistically, it’s tough for 100 percent to hit the mark. Keep a growth mindset. Learning happens on different timelines. Missed deadlines offer teachable moments to strengthen executive-functioning skills.

Be Proactive to Help Students Meet Due Dates

Break large assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks. More frequent due dates for smaller tasks may feel less overwhelming. For example, assign a prewriting graphic organizer before drafting. Students may procrastinate less when they can focus mental energy on just one task: idea generation. Plus, they benefit from timely teacher feedback, which may prevent off-topic ideas from snowballing into an off-topic essay!

But when students miss a due date (sigh), a new set of lessons needs to kick in.

Look for the Why

First, converse with the student. Find out why the due date was missed. Was it something in the student’s control? In the student’s mind, your math assignment may be small potatoes compared to devastating news of an ill family member. Don’t assume it was a matter of “I forgot to do my homework.”

Next, look for patterns. Is this a rare occurrence? Are assignments always missing on Wednesdays? Initiate a respectful dialogue to see if Tuesday night chess club is affecting the student’s homework routine. More importantly, help the student troubleshoot ways to manage their time. For instance, suggest signing up for study hall. Additionally, if habits are forming, invite stakeholders at home and school to offer input. It’s always interesting to see whether assignments are missing across all content areas. Work together to help the student identify barriers to meeting deadlines and create a reasonable action plan that fits their needs.

Explain in Learning Terms

While it’s important for the student to learn the material covered in the missed assignment, it’s also important to learn how to complete future assignments on time. Help students see the value in adhering to due dates. If assignments are chunked, explain that each small goal serves as a steppingstone for subsequent learning.

Voice and Choice

Negotiate a schedule with the student to plan how the missed assignment will be completed. This gives the student control in developing a workable plan that fosters more buy-in. Some teachers may be uncomfortable with the student having a voice after missing a due date, but look at the situation now: incomplete work. In student-centered teaching, we need to adjust and respond to students’ needs to engage them in the process. Include chunked assignments in the schedule to allow for frequent check-ins, perhaps even daily. Also consider a due date window, instead of one fixed day, to offer more flexibility.

Make Check-in Dates Visible

Rename due dates to check-in dates so they imply more collaboration. Then, help the student record dates on either a paper planner or digital device. When dates are visible to the learner, they’re more tangible. Upon completion, encourage the student to add a check mark or even a fun sticker.

Differentiated Due Date Management

So far, I’ve been talking about one student who missed an assignment. But chances are, teachers are managing multiple students. To complicate things further, if each has a differentiated plan for completing assignments, there’s added record keeping for the teacher. It’s helpful to keep track of who is where on a spreadsheet. With a quick glance, you can do a status check with your students.

Additionally, it may help to pair students with study buddies. The more cheerleaders the better to encourage students to stick to schedules and complete their work.

Timetables may seem arbitrary to some students until they appreciate their value. Teach students how to manage due dates so they can feel the success of completing a job well done.

Thanks to Chandra, Stephen, and Kelly for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s post responded to this question:

How do you handle students turning in work after the due date, and why do you apply that policy?

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

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