Today’s post finishes up a two-part series on how different teachers handle late student work.

‘Taking Late Work Can Be Challenging’

Ann Stiltner is a high school special education and reading teacher in Connecticut with more than 20 years of experience in education. She shares her passion and love for working in the classroom at her blog from Room A212 (www.annstiltner.com/blog). Follow her on Twitter @fromrooma212:

Being a special education teacher means most of my students have the IEP modification of extra time, which generally translates to time and a half. For a test a teacher gives a class one hour to do, my student would have 1½ hours. For a project the class had one week to complete, my student would have 11 days. However, even with this extra time, some of my spec. ed. students are not able to complete the work. With diagnoses such as ADHD, LD (Learning Disabilities), or anxiety, they find maintaining focus and accessing one-on-one support difficult to fit into these time constraints. Their motivation is unpredictable based on their mood, family challenges, or social drama.

Due to these factors, I have adopted a policy where I accept work from both regular and special education students at any time for full credit or I take points off for each day late depending on the circumstances and if that will motivate a student to finish.

I realize that taking late work can be challenging for teachers of 100-plus students. It means constantly updating your grade book and keeping track of papers. Some teachers don’t accept late work because they think a firm cutoff teaches students the importance of meeting deadlines. Even though I agree this is an important skill, I fear that some students won’t learn that lesson from a policy of not accepting work late. These students prefer to give up and forget about the assignment in order to feel a sense of control and protect themselves from failure. Getting a zero on an assignment does not make them rethink their decision to not do the work, since a zero to them doesn’t mean the same as it does to us teachers. To them, a zero is the grade they think they deserve based on their past experiences.

I have found a time limit gives students a reason to give up and not try. This is learned helplessness in action. My working definition of learned helplessness is a person’s lack of effort due to previous experiences which have taught them that making even the smallest effort won’t make a difference.

For many students, trying involves a large investment of cognitive effort and a huge risk to put themselves out there. They are not ready to set themselves up for what, they are sure, will make them feel like a failure and especially not in a setting where they might be bullied, yelled at, or insulted. If they do not feel safe and supported, they will not risk being teased by their classmates. This is the thinking behind my policy to accept late work at any time. I do not want my conditions and requirements to be used as an excuse for why they do not engage in my lesson and do the work.

This same philosophy explains why I provide supplies like writing utensils or computer chargers. I consciously decide not to create barriers for a student to complete work. I do not want to rob them of a chance to engage with the material, learn something new, experience deep thinking and feed their curiosity by dictating conditions that they can blame for not engaging in the work. Accepting an assignment late gives them time to get motivated or set up one-to-one support so they can focus on the work when they are ready. I do not want to distract students with rules concerning time limits, pen vs. pencil, or on paper vs. on computer.

Don’t get me wrong: I do have classroom rules and expectations. I want the focus in my class to be on what is most essential—learning. This approach means the student—and their parents—will have a hard time holding me responsible for their grade. The responsibility falls on the student and their choices. This open policy allows me to create rapport when I explain my belief in their ability to do the work and my dedication to provide them the support and necessary modifications to be successful. If and when a student is ready to engage in the work, make an effort and take a risk, I am ready.

‘A Balanced Approach’

Ruth Okoye, Ed.D., is a 30-year veteran educator. She has taught in private and public school settings and is passionate about literacy, educational technology, and ed-tech coaching. She currently serves as the K-12 director at a nonprofit organization:

As an ed-tech coach working with fellow educators in their journey of professional growth, handling assignment submissions beyond the designated due date is a nuanced process that reflects both practicality and a deep understanding of individual circumstances. The approach I adopt recognizes the unique challenges that my learners who are teachers face in their daily lives, and it aims to create an inclusive learning environment that supports their development while acknowledging the diverse contexts in which they operate.

My policy on due dates is rooted in the realization that a one-size-fits-all approach fails to account for the myriad of responsibilities and situations that learners encounter. Rather than rigidly adhering to stringent deadlines, I advocate a balanced approach that considers the academic integrity of assignments and the need for flexibility.

To strike this balance, I establish a preferred due date for assignments, considering the majority of learners and allowing them ample time to complete their work. This desired deadline also has a more concrete counterpart—a hard deadline—that offers a reasonable time frame for those genuinely committed to finishing their tasks. This dual-deadline structure allows proactive learners to demonstrate their dedication while acknowledging the potential challenges others may face.

For example, in a book study, there would be weekly assignments. The posted due dates would give the learners three weeks to get each assignment done. I would establish a hard deadline for all assignments two weeks after the study is completed. I’ve found that for a six- to eight-week book study, that allows ample time for a learner to deal with an external complication and then get back on track.

Of course, the purpose of the assignment plays a significant role in determining the flexibility of the due date. For instance, tasks geared toward in-class reflection, like exit tickets, maintain their original deadline as they serve an immediate and time-sensitive purpose. On the other hand, assignments designed to assess learners’ application of covered material need a more lenient approach, allowing participants the time to digest the content and apply it effectively.

I also believe in allowing learners ample time to attempt tasks and even granting multiple opportunities for submission. This practice is grounded in the understanding that the learning process is not linear, and different individuals require varying duration to internalize and implement new concepts. By granting extensions and multiple tries, I encourage a growth mindset and empower learners to engage more deeply with the subject.

One of the cornerstones of my policy is the recognition that external factors beyond the learning experience can impact a learner’s ability to meet deadlines. Illness, family emergencies, or resource constraints can hinder progress, and rigid due dates should not serve as barriers to measuring their ability to apply course concepts. Instead of penalizing them for circumstances beyond their control, I aim to evaluate their understanding of the material and capacity to use it effectively, irrespective of external hindrances.

So you can see, my approach to handling late submissions from learners revolves around flexibility, empathy, and practicality. By acknowledging the diverse challenges teachers face and tailoring due dates to the purpose of assignments, I create an environment that fosters deep learning, personal growth, and a commitment to the subject matter. This policy recognizes the unique circumstances of each learner. It underscores the overarching goal of professional learning—to nurture and support the development of capable and resilient professionals in education.

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What Is the Goal?

Jessica Fernandez is a full-time high school teacher and instructional coach near Chicago who specializes in teaching multilingual English learners and in supporting colleagues to make small language shifts that will benefit all learners:

Fortunately, my high school freshman English PLC has decided to have two categories: formative (anything at all that is practice), which is weighted 10 percent, and summative, which is weighted 90 percent. Since the purpose of formative tasks is to practice a skill they will later demonstrate, late work is accepted until we complete the summative demonstration for that skill. Afterward, there’s not so much of a point, plus it would drive us crazy and make work-life balance tough.

The goal, after all, is to give frequent and prompt feedback so kids can improve before their final summative demonstration. Late points are more of what we used to call “habits of work”; important soft skills, yes, but for our purposes, if the kid practiced for their summative skill demonstration, I’m happy, and I’m not scoring them on timeliness. Who knows what they had going on? I’ve gotten grace, and 10 percent won’t make or break their grade anyway.

whoknows

Thanks to Ann, Ruth, and Jessica 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?

In Part One, Chandra Shaw, Stephen Katzel, and Kelly Owens contributed their ideas.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. 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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