Classroom policy that includes rigid due dates and inflexible deadlines is likely counter-productive and damaging to your students for the following eight reasons:
- It distorts learning outcomes. When a rigid deadline prevents a student from turning in work that they are able to do – and that missing work is a component of the final grade, the report on learning is missing valuable information about what a student knows and is able to do.
- It causes students to give up. Inflexible due dates that come and go create a hurdle for future student performance. Students may or may not have a reason that is acceptable to the teacher for not meeting the deadline. However, when prevention of turning in work impacts the final grade outcome, it becomes more difficult to motivate an already potentially under-motivated student after they have missed an assignment.
- It makes learning optional. When the primary motivation for a student to complete work is to avoid punitive grading practices like points off for late work or zeros, mathematics and gaming of points become the goal of many. If a student is satisfied with simply passing or doesn’t have an inherent desire for high marks, not doing difficult or time-consuming tasks become rational choices.
- It doesn’t respect the complexity of student lives. A student may not meet deadlines for a variety of reasons – some deemed “acceptable” and others not. However, all reasons are likely rational to the student. Perhaps a challenging course load is forcing students to choose between sleep and school work completion. Perhaps it is mental health, poverty, or access to resources that is the lead cause. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might be at the root of the “apathy.” Violence or addiction may also be a cause. Personality conflicts, personal tragedies, poor time management skills, lack of understanding, family commitments, cultural hurdles, or a myriad of other reasons could be why a student isn’t completing the assignment. Expecting a student to communicate potentially embarrassing hurdles to their completion will likely not end up with favorable results.
- It sends the wrong message about the purpose of the assignment. The main purpose of a teacher is to teach. The main purpose of a learning task is to learn. When a policy in place sends the message that the mere completion of a task supersedes the learning meant to take place or the role of a teacher is to simply manage said completion, the task itself becomes devalued and the relationship between teacher and pupil is degraded. This is when work completion enters the realm of a power struggle.
- It abdicates responsibility to inspire. Students will complete quality work on time if they find it valuable to do so. Hiding behind the false pretense of student apathy or lack of motivation/respect puts all the blame on the student. The teacher has a responsibility to demonstrate the value of the content and how the learning tasks align. It is true that some students are more difficult to inspire than others – this is the job.
- It puts a deadline and limit on learning. It cannot be argued that any learning task that is so critically important to the outcome of student learning should not be able to be completed. Any argument to the contrary is absolutely putting a deadline and limit on learning. If we are to meet students where they are and get them to where we need them to be, we need to accept that some students will be ready to complete the task at a later time than others.
- Is not teaching the responsibility or accountability you think it is. Holding students responsible for the work and accountable for deadlines must ultimately include completion and proper intervention. Simply punishing the lack of responsibility with punitive grading is not the same as teaching responsibility and certainly isn’t holding the student accountable.
For a few ideas on how to motivate students to complete work without the use of punitive grading, see my post, 15 Strategies for Motivating Students that Don’t Involve Punitive Grading