Late work that actually works
How to approach late work with students in online classes is a topic I’ve discussed many times with my colleagues. My own thoughts and practices around late work have changed significantly over the years.
What have I tried?
- No late work unless extenuating circumstances (this hurt completion and morale).
- 50% deduction for work submitted up to a week late (students seemed to think it wasn’t worth doing the late work).
- 10% deduction for work submitted up to a week late (this did work better because a 90% was still possible).
- No due dates at all, but I kept suggested due dates (this worked for some students, but many students fell really far behind and tried to do seven weeks of work in the last two weeks of the term).
One of the questions that has guided my thinking is this: “is submitting the work ‘on time’ more important than submitting the work?” I teach because I love to see students learn and grow, not because I like to micromanage due dates.
I understand the argument of teaching students to manage their time and be accountable for deadlines because that’s an important workplace skill. But I’m a professional in the workplace, and I don’t get everything done by every deadline all the time.
As an instructor I had to ask myself, do I always return grades and provide feedback by the time I say I will? Honestly, no. Sometimes my daughter gets sick and my schedule is thrown by a day or two. Sometimes an unexpected need for a committee or project pops up and I fall a little behind on grading. In these situations I expect grace from my students. So I believe that I should extend grace to students who also need it.
I’m going to share the most current iteration of my late work policy. And I invite you to share yours in the comments, and offer me some new ways of thinking about my policy.
What does my syllabus say?
Unit reflections and homework assignments can be submitted up to one week late without any deduction- no questions asked and no judgment given! Assignment folders close at 11:59pm one week after the due date. Discussions must be completed on time, and the final reflection cannot be submitted late because it’s due in finals week.
What does my policy look like in practice?
The day after an assignment was due (Monday morning), I go into the grade book and enter a 0 (or the word “Ignored” because I use contract grading). I then add a note like this:
“Oops- looks like you didn’t get a chance to submit this assignment. But don’t worry! You have until 4/24 at 11:59pm to submit this assignment- no questions asked! Let me know if I can do anything to help.”
What if a student needs even more time? I extend extra grace when needed. Sometimes a student needs an extra day or two, and that’s okay with me. If a student wants to do the work, and I think that the assignment deepens their learning, then a little extra time seems like a valuable way to support learning and equitable student success.
I do have a creative (unadvertised) way for students to make up a missed discussion, and I offer that to any student who needs to get caught up as we enter the last third of the term. Most students take me up on it, which means they got yet another important opportunity to engage with our course content.
How has this approach been working?
Really well! Most students end up submitting their work within just a couple of days after I notify them via the grade book that they can still submit an assignment. Completion is up – I see students persisting in the class more than I did with my previous policies.
I also have received notes from students thanking me for the reminder and ability to submit the assignment late. And overall, I find that students are more likely to reach out via email when they have a question about completing their late work. That open dialogue between us makes such a difference.
I’m happy with my current policy because I can be empathic and show grace while having a schedule and structure for completing coursework. But will I change my late work policy in the future? Probably. I’m always looking for ways to grow and do better for my students.