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The End of the Deadline?

By Jay Todd

Photo of a parking meter that says, FAIL, instead of 0.
"Parking Meter Fail" by Jeramey Jannene / CC BY 2.0

I'll be honest: I can't remember the last time I penalized a student for turning in a late assignment. I used to be very strict about this. I was taught, in fact, to be very strict about deadlines. Make your policy clear in your syllabus and never deviate from it, I was told. Don't let the students take advantage. So I used to deduct one letter grade for each day a major assignment was late. Small assignments couldn't be late at all.

At some point though, I started to wonder about the effectiveness of this approach. Mostly, I started to worry, as a writing teacher, that I was hindering good writing by making the deadline some important. A few times, because of my clearly stated policy, I had to give an A paper -- I mean a truly excellent paper -- a C, simply because it was late.

I still have a policy in my syllabus that says, clearly, that a deadline is a deadline, but I follow that up with a statement that says, "If you anticipate having difficulty meeting a deadline, please speak to me about it." Basically, to an astute reader, I'm negating my policy right there.

Ellen Boucher discusses this a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: It's Time to Ditch Our Deadlines. Her new policy is that all assignments come with an automatic two-day grace period. If a student needs still more time, all that's required is a meeting. As a result, she says, she's seen higher quality work and less stress from her students. She makes a good argument, especially by focusing on how this helps under-prepared college students.

I should say though that so far, I've only taken this approach with big assignments -- essays and research papers. Daily homework, quizzes, and such still come with fairly rigid deadlines.

1 thought on “The End of the Deadline?

  1. Elliott Hammer

    Really interesting, as one of the things I really thought I'd figured out was my lateness policy--5%/day, regardless of reason. It's enough incentive to encourage prompt submissions, but light enough penalty that if the paper really isn't ready, take an extra day or two to get it right. One reason I'm still not sure I'm going to change (although she's persuasive) is that I also really work with the class on anticipating our deadlines, discussing where they should be in their progress, and how to get it done right (and make the call that the late penalty is worth it). I feel as though this attention to the issue in class might help with some of the stress, but I sure haven't assessed it. I'll definitely pay attention to the class affect and morale this semester and be open to changing. Thanks for the post.

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