I had an amazing thing happen this semester: every student turned in every assignment on time. I don’t think that happened due to the caliber of students or the time I was teaching the course, for those things didn’t make that big of a change in other dimensions of the course. The reason why it happened is that I changed my policy on late work: I simply stated that work not received by the deadline would not be graded and given a “0” for the assignment.
Before I go on, though, and given the lively discussion and cries of unfairness from students (who never actually were in any of my classes), I let students know about the policy in the first lecture of the course and also made sure that students with disabilities, students from disadvantaged communities, student-athletes, or students with extenuating circumstances (disabled children, elderly parents, military service, and so on) knew to discuss their situation with me well before anything was due so we could co-create accommodations and solutions that supported them.
My wife had started the very same policy a couple of semesters before I had and she found that she significantly decreased the amount of late submissions. Keeping up with students turning things in late, trying to figure out how much to dock their projects, remembering to get those late submissions with the batch of others, etc. proved to be a pain in the arse. That alone proved to be enough of a reason to implement such a policy.
But there are at least two other really good reasons to do this. The first of these deals with the individual student. Having loose late policies actually encourages students to disregard the given deadline for the course. Why? Because, given all of the other hard-deadline items that students have to contend with, it’s more practical to study and/or cram for that Calculus exam that must be taken on Wednesday rather than on that Philosophy (in my case) paper due on that same day but that can be put off. Their efforts in cramming and studying will likely have more impact on their Calculus grade than the negative impact that they’d receive on their paper would have on their grade, depending on the policy.
When I was a TA, I had a professor that had us dock something like a third of a letter grade for every two days late the paper was submitted; weekends counted as one day, as well. Their papers were generally due Friday, and it worked out that they could turn something in on the second Monday after the paper was due and still only have one letter grade docked from their paper. That late submission policy caused me loads of headaches. Given that I tried to have papers graded and turned back out two weeks after they turned them in, it was not at all uncommon for me to be turning back (what I thought was) all of their papers only to have a handful or so trickle in, causing me to either batch them with the next slew of papers, or redo my plan for the week to do those papers. If I chose the former, not only would I have to worry about their grades being consistent with their peers’, but it took me considerably longer, because generally I’d have to reread what we’d covered previously to make sure I understood what the students were saying.
Granted, I could have emailed or caught every student in class who didn’t turn in their papers to see who was turning it in and who wasn’t, but we’re not in high school anymore. My stand on that is that it’s the student’s responsibility to make those arrangements. Furthermore, with roughly eighty students, I wasn’t about to go chasing people down who didn’t turn in their papers, even if I could remember off the top of my head who they were. So, if, while recording scores, I noticed a student didn’t turn in a paper, there was always that lingering question of whether they’d turn it in. Simply put, all the brainpower that I spent keeping up wondering about all of this and tracking papers down was better spent on developing better lectures and providing more in-depth feedback to students who did turn in their assignments.
It was commonplace for me to hear students discuss with their peers that they’d just turn their stuff in Monday since they’d probably do better by working on it over the weekend rather than during the week. (Students have a hard time understanding how easily sound travels in classrooms–or they understand all too well and love airing out the lurid details of their escapades for their instructor’s amusement.) What really sold the fact that something was wrong with the policy was when students told me to my face that they turn things in late because the penalty is pretty much non-existent.
The second good reason to impose a hard deadline on students is that doing so prepares them for the real world. There is a creeping concern that higher education is no longer preparing students for entry into the non-academic worlds for which they supposedly go to school to prepare for. Not all business institutions have hard deadlines for policies, I’m sure, but if there is a significant effect for the business if Order X does or does not go in a given day, I don’t see many managers being pleased with their employees if they drop the ball. In such stakes, there is no late submission policy. The students we issue forth, degree in hand, have been trained to turn projects in late, and often rewarded for it. We do them no favor by encouraging this.
The beauty of the policy was the ease of its application. Not a single student asked if they could turn anything late. In those cases where they couldn’t turn it in on the day it was due (student-athletes on tournaments), they took the initiative to turn it in ahead of time. I didn’t have to strong-arm, coddle, or remind people to turn their projects in, and yet, every project was turned in on time. (Note: For this to work properly, make sure you’re explicit about the time it has to be turned in, too.)
And, in case you’re worried about such things, it didn’t alter my evaluations–they didn’t make me out to be a bad guy out to get them or anything silly like that. Lastly, the gravity of the deadline made it such that I didn’t even have to give anyone a failing grade. Everything worked out smoothly, exactly the way that it should.
Get rid of those loose late submission policies. Students will adapt accordingly, and the semester will go so much easier for everyone involved.
im wrinting a paper on students turning in late wrok and i totally agree with you however i need more details about how it gets you ready for the “real world”. like a stastic.
Emily Scott says
If I were your student, I would fail your class. I do stellar work, but I have executive function disorder. Look it up, it’s a very real thing. I own my own business, have been a very active first responder, and am a middle-aged college student about to get a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I would have PhD in real-world experience if there were such a thing. 80% of my homework is late. I just turned in another late paper today that I worked my ass off to get in on time, but it was 2 hours past the deadline and instantly my grade went from an A to a C. Please tell me how tjis type of punishment that crushes student morale is supporting my student success.
Julius Anderson says
In the real world you would not just get a C, you would be fired from a job. It supports your student success by hopefully getting you to figure out how to get things on time. You absolutely SHOULD be failing your classes if a whopping 80% of your work is turned in late!
Emily Scott says
This attitude about not accepting late work is a form of hazing. It really doesn’t prepare anyone for the real world. Show me a legit study that proves it does. If I were your student, I would fail your class. I do stellar work, but I have executive function disorder. Look it up, it’s a very real thing. I own my own business, have been a very active first responder, and am a middle-aged college student about to get a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I would have PhD in real-world experience if there were such a thing. 80% of my homework is late. I just turned in another late paper today that I worked my ass off to get in on time, but it was 2 hours past the deadline and instantly my grade went from an A to a C. Please tell me how this type of punishment that crushes student morale is supporting my student success.
Charlie Gilkey says
I think you’re conflating turning work in on time with doing half-hearted work. You can do full-hearted work and turn it in on time. You can also turn in half-hearted work after the deadline. They’re two separate things. And, additionally, if you have executive function disorder, there is likely some support you can have from student services. I always worked with my students who had a documented disability and/or who would show up and let me know what’s going on.
While I could continue to argue my point, it’s clear that it’s your teacher or your registrar that you should be talking to.
Prof Strong says
Students are given a fair amount of time to complete graded assignments. In my case I give a week or 2 which includes weekends. There are simply no excuses!
It is simple. Start working on your assignments earlier. If you show up late for work consistently, you will be fired. If you fail to meet deadlines in almost every profession out there, you will be finding another line of work. There is ZERO excuse for turning in late work. One word of advise….know your limitations. If you are a procrastinator, start earlier. If you have a physical handicap, start earlier. If you have a disability that limits you, start earlier. Know your limitations and adjust.
Louisa May Alcott says
I very muched enjoyed how you explained that having late work accepted could ariangly be a bad thing but sometimes it isnt.
Louisa May Alcott
I have had 15 years experience in finding your statement “Get rid of those loose late submission policies. Students will adapt accordingly, and the semester will go so much easier for everyone involved. ” incorrect. If you are in a class of students motivated by grades and believe in their ability, yes they would step up, but if you have students that have a fixed mindset they are fine with zeroes. You are not teaching or supporting their growth.
Charlie Gilkey says
A few more years on the planet has made me less staunch on this position, but I still think it has merit. Your suggestion that holding firm on deadlines “is not teaching or supporting their growth” is as theory-laden as my own that it is actually teaching them and supporting their growth. Students with a fixed mindset who are fine with zeroes may be best supported by learning the consequences of their choices, or, at least, surely we should assess the cost of policies that encourage them to keep said mindset AND divert teachers’ already scarce resources from being able to cultivate those students who are stepping up.
Social systems influence individuals and individuals influence social systems. To teach and reach, we need to address both the system – policies, procedures, norms, etc. – and the individual. I think there’s room for both of us to be correct.
Emily Scott says
Do you then also reward students who turn in work early with extra points?
Hannah Kim says
That’s why when I grow up and become a choir teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana, I will mark down 50% student points if he or she does not attend a required concert. I will be known as Mrs. Kim [a choir teacher at Indianapolis High School and a mom of a 9 year old, Candy Kim, who has blondish brown hair].
If my students do not attend choir concerts because they forgot, they still get 50% marked down. I will remind them, “If you were 9 and we were in grade school, I would let you skip concerts. But you are much older than my 9 year old.”
Yes, I will be a choir teacher in Indianapolis High School, and a mom of an adopted 8 3/4 year old, Candy Jane Kim.
Matthew Moore says
You are dealing in absolutes. You had a lucky semester. You might want to re evaluate that in the future. The real world does not work that way.
Charlie Gilkey says
I must be especially lucky, as I had a streak of a few semesters were things worked out well. Were I to teach at a university again, I’d do the same unless they had a policy that forbade it.
It also turns out that there are many real worlds. Some real worlds do work that way, and we might want to consider the effects of the culture of academia that churns out unprepared and coddled students has on our broader society.
For the last four years, I’ve worked at two institutions that insisted that I make the coddled happy, despite how unprepared they are. Or will be after a semester of passive instruction. I anticipate discharge after the latest round of complaints about my “no late work” policy.
Yes, you are lucky indeed.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks for the notes from the field, Diogenes. My original post is going on a decade old, so it may very well be that that this policy is much like the Latin requirements of yesteryear. For context, I also taught at a research institution, so there may have been less administrative pressure on me there.
Let’s hope the emerging alternatives and successors to the institutions of today fare better on preparing students to live on purpose and be prepared for the world they’re walking into. I know that’s what we’re doing at the Wayfinding Academy.
(Note: I’m not saying the Wayfinding Academy has a “no late work” policy.)
I am a first-year teacher and this is similar to my policy. I ONLY accept homework one day late for a 65 (the lowest grade you can get before failing) and that’s it. It seems harsh, but it has made my students (freshmen!) very conscientious about managing their time.
Charlie Gilkey says
Hi Sara! I like that compromise, too. It at least gets out of the grade gaming and negotiation that all too often happens with late work.
This system does not allow for mistakes. Why not provide a get out of jail free card? Also, it seems to me this system prefers sloppily finished or partially completed work over a student taking the time needed to complete the assignment to their fullest potential. Just my initial thoughts on the matter. I am definitely biased right now having just received a zero on an assignment for tardiness!
Charlie Gilkey says
Why provide one? It serves the same effect of encouraging people to use it — again, some other course (especially those who do tests) will always take precedence.
How so? “Taking the time needed to complete the assignment to their fullest potential” is a recipe for procrastination and perfectionism, since a student could and likely would always argue that they needed extra time. It only prefers sloppiness or partially completed work in the case where a student hasn’t planned and/or started the work on time. Obviously, if a student waits until the night before or day of — which students commonly do — then it’s going to be rushed or partially completed. But if they start at the beginning of the semester or when the assignment is given, then it encourages doing the best they can in the given timeline.
Emily Scott says
If I were your student, I would fail your class. I do stellar work, but I have executive function disorder. Look it up, it’s a very real thing. I own my own business, have been a very active first responder, and am a middle-aged college student about to get a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I would have PhD in real-world experience if there were such a thing. 80% of my homework is late. I just turned in another late paper today that I worked my ass off to get in on time, but it was 2 hours past the deadline and instantly my grade went from an A to a C. Please tell me how this type of punishment that crushes student morale is supporting my student success.
Emily Scott says
Btw, what you are teaching your students with such rigid expectations is that half-hearted or incomplete assignments turned in by the deadline is better than working past the deadline and really getting it if it is material the student is still trying to grasp. I would not hire any of your students to work for me. I own a jewelry business, and make sure my employees understand that it is okay to to take some extra time to make sure the work is done right. Because in the REAL world, at the end of the day, half-hearted work turned in on time will still end up costing you more money than would extending the deadline because you will have to go back and fix your mistakes anyway, and it also tarnishes your reputation.
Julius Anderson says
Your comments show your sense of entitlement. It is also a professor’s job to prepare students for the real world. In the REAL world, you don’t get an extension on deadlines as you seem to think. You get replaced by someone who can do the work on time.
Samuel A. says
Sure, your policy may decrease late-submissions but why exactly should it be more inconvenient to grade? Even in the most draconian situation where students turn work in weeks after the deadline, there are many tools that can be utilized to maintain efficiency. Firstly, you can electronically store cheat sheets that give you the general response or structure that you are looking for when grading. Secondly, There are many programs you can use to automatically deduct points (% based) by tracking the due date and the received date.
You mention later in your argument that it encourages students not to procrastinate but it disregards effort, differences between students, and extenuating circumstances. I work hard in my Physics class and I have completed the entire book of Physics in class despite the lessons being only on chapter 5 out of 16. I do well on all my exams (106% on tests, 30% of grade) yet I still have a B (83.5%) average because the work I turn in late receives no credit. Your argument is that the no late policy will motivate me to turn in work on time but your model doesn’t account for lost work. I am able to quickly and accurately finish assignments and have completed every assignment. However, due to being horribly disorganized, I often lose the work before class. In these scenarios, two things occur: I either RE-DO the assignment and hope for credit the same day (never works) or return home and find it inside a Physics book and be unable to turn it in. What this essentially does is make my effort and work equivalent to that of someone who doesn’t do it at all.
You may argue that I need to up my game and learn to organize myself but one, I already have made HUGE improvements with organization, and second, it negatively affects my grade even though my effort went far beyond class expectations. I do not ask for 100% credit on my assignments. I would even be fine with a flat 63% or 50%, but to compare my work to someone who hasn’t even made an effort to do it is darn right unfair.
Your argument also doesn’t account for students who may be financially or socially disadvantaged and may not have feasible access to computers, have unusually heavy responsibilities, or other circumstances that you do not make exceptions for. There are many students who live by the syllabus and even if these circumstances affect them they won’t challenge it. You even agree with this by stating:”Not a single student asked if they could turn anything late.” You may reply by stating you would make exceptions for special circumstances and that it is their fault for not bringing it to your attention. This argument ignores the fact that these types of students completely respect the syllabus and by not allowing wiggle room you hurt students simply due to differences in personality.
Even in cases where students do make requests for extensions, you may not agree with the legitimacy of their reason because you don’t understand their background. For instance, at my high school, a large percentage of the students are financially poor and don’t have access to computers. Some of these students also work after school to help their families. A majority of the teachers are middle to upper middle class and don’t understand the financial or social situations (taking care of siblings/domestic violence/ work) that affect students that make it difficult to complete the work on time. Due to this, I see a strong divide in grades within the school: middle-class students do exponentially better than their poor counterparts.
I understand the premise of your argument but I believe that strict policies negatively affect students in ways that aren’t fair or just. A possible solution to this could be allowing late work to be turned in at a flat 50%. This is significant enough to reduce the ‘procrastination’ of students but not enough so to completely tank someone’s grades where they are otherwise competent and differentiate them from students who don’t do the work at all. Also, you can explicitly state in the syllabus that you make exceptions for extenuating circumstances and will allow for students to turn them in for full credit if their request is approved.
Charlie Gilkey says
You bring up some good points, especially later in the piece about educational disadvantages due to different circumstances. I always discussed this in my first lecture and made sure that students from different backgrounds and abilities knew to discuss their situation with me. Also, I came from those backgrounds, so I intimately understood the difficulty.
Note, though, that your argument about fairness is considerably at tension with these accommodations. Students who aren’t in those situations, who are organized, and so on could rightly claim that those students got special treatment. We discussed different concepts and challenges about fairness in this very class, and rather than teaching about abstract cases, I would sometimes use student policies to bridge into some of the classical ones.
With the last sentence in your paragraph and the context of how I explained the rule, we’re essentially in agreement. Strict does not equal absolute. It’s now a hypothetical, but I’d be unlikely to have the 50% late work rule given my previous experience.
Prof Strong says
I agree with you 100% on not accepting late work. The only excuses I will accept is family/medical emergencies that must be documented. I worked in the fashion industry for about 20yrs and it is indeed a job where being on-time is a must in order to meet production goals! I also look review current job postings from time to time (fashion jobs) and each have a blurb about meeting deadlines.
Example: Sample coordinator job,Resolve, 2018, Fashion Jobs.com, “Must have proven ability to prioritize and meet deadlines, provide a high level of attention to detail, and handle multiple deadlines simultaneously
I also teach, mainly 300/400 level courses of Jrs & Srs…by now they should know how to manage time to meet course deadlines.
I’m here because I have been a university professor for 3 years and I am still at loss on what the best policy is for late homework. During the past three years I have been very lenient on late homework. While most students turn in their work on time, I always have students who turn in their work very late. Last semester I had a student appear out of the woodwork during the last 4 weeks of school and turn in ALL of their work.
I understand both sides of this debate and I can certainly sympathize with both sides as well.
I want to adopt a best practices system. I have not found this system nor did any of these comments help with coming to a conclusion. When I close a module I like the feeling of being done with the module and moving on to new material. Constantly in a state of building. Yes, late work is very annoying to grade. But is it their best work. While I haven’t read any studies about late homework, I would like to assume the a higher correlation of achievement exists between students who turn in their work on-time versus students who turn in late work.
Does society need rules or can we work everything out with reason and discussion? No, seriously, I’m asking.
I’m thinking that next semester I will try a new approach. I will explain that late work will not be accepted, but I am willing to make exceptions for students who need extra time. Extra time can be absolutely anything from not feeling like doing the homework (not in the right frame of mind) to family issues.
During my time as a student I always turned in my work on-time, usually in advance. Although, I remember a sincere incident where I did not see the homework assignment until the day after it was due. I was absolutely devastated. Fortunately, the professor accepted my work and said something like, “it’s fine, it happens.” If the professor would not have allowed it, I would certainly have understood, but would have been extremely upset at myself. I will say that that incident increased my awareness times 10. But a little obsessively.
We need a policy that works. I just don’t know what it is. Lot’s of opinions here on both sides. I just can’t seem to choose a side.
I like the idea of having due dates, yes, but I also like the idea of providing exceptions on a case-by-case basis. But I can also see this being a major problem. Yes, I will have students who like me always turn in work on time and accidentally miss a due date then come begging to turn in an assignment. Then I will have students who just want to pass the course with a C and not complete most assignment until the end of the semester. The absolute zero policy seems inappropriate and I would hate that teacher for missing an assignment once for some unintentional oversight. Case-by-case seems appropriate but then I can also see students complaining about how one student was given extra time and one student received a grade reduction of 10%. That system seems unfair.
There seriously does not seem to be a right answer.
Charlie Gilkey says
I don’t think there’s a perfect answer here. It seems to come down to picking an option and accepting its consequences. As I said in the post, it wasn’t “absolute zero all the time, no exceptions” but, rather, letting students know we wouldn’t be playing the late work game.
Depending on how many assignments you give, a way around this would be “no late work, drop your lowest grade.” Obviously, this doesn’t work well when there are three graded items, but if you have ten+, it’s doable.
And, still, my take is that it’s not the teacher’s fault that you missed the assignment. Sure, we may not like the cop who gives us a ticket, but assuming we actually broke the law, it’s not the cop’s fault that we got the ticket. She was doing her job and my actions intersected negatively with that.
Of course, preparing them for the real world is something we would want to teach students, but why would you want to at the cost of their mental health? Not everyone is neurotypical. It can be a struggle to submit work on time. Would you rather students have a mental breakdown every single time they see you’ve assigned something?
“…also made sure that students with disabilities, students from disadvantaged communities, student-athletes, or students with extenuating circumstances (disabled children, elderly parents, military service, and so on) knew to discuss their situation with me well before anything was due so we could co-create accommodations and solutions that supported them.”
So they must tell you everything? It sounds to me like you’re nosy. Wouldn’t it make those who do their work feel as though they are being treated unfairly? That someone got extra treatment just because they have a mum in the Navy? If you truly wanted to prepare students for the so-called “real world”, treat all of them the same. Make it so that no work will be submitted late. Make sure that if they do the assignments, give them a zero in grade. In fact, just give all of their assignments zeros, because you’re setting them up for failure.
Punctuality is important, I know, but being late every once in a while is OK! Check in on your students, because not everyone can afford to do homework the second it’s assigned.