Does it work?

I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of educators recently about late work. Feelings regarding the impact of late work on grades run deep with teachers. Many believe that students will not complete work on time if there is no penalty on their grade. They feel this teaches them the importance of timeliness. That it teaches them to be responsible.

The best question I can think to ask when talking about penalizing grades from late work is:

Does it work?

If you have reduced marks for late work, did the student make sure to turn in all work on time from that point on? As I asked this, I saw heads shaking in the audience. This can be a huge realization for teachers. They have never considered whether their late work policies are producing the intended results. These penalties were written to encourage a certain behavioral outcome which in most cases did not happen.

That is the heart of the matter. Although this practice seems logical, it simply doesn’t work. The kids who are late with their work are usually late no matter what happens to their grade. What does work is forming relationships with students. Find out why the assignments are habitually late. Develop a plan to complete work on time and hold them to it. Check in with them frequently. Show care about their learning. Let them know they can always come to you and talk about revising the plan if necessary.

In my classroom experience, these strategies worked. They worked diligently to meet deadlines and spoke with me personally when they couldn’t meet them. We developed plans for some who needed additional structure. We valued learning over due dates.

As my friend Brian Durst (@RESP3CTtheGAME) tells his students, “It’s due when it’s done.”

How do you handle late work? Does it produce the intended outcomes? Share your experiences and we all grow.

9 thoughts on “Does it work?

  1. Interesting article. This is something I think about often and I value the overall message in this post. So what do you recommend, hand in an assignment when you can?

    1. Practice and work from students is due when it is finished. Giving students narrative descriptive feedback to guide future instruction and practice will not be as effective if the work is incomplete. Students must be actively working in class, but each has their own learning journey.

  2. Even when teachers admit that punishing late work with a grade hasn’t worked (35% of students don’t turn in work in the majority of schools I have worked with), they have such a hard time letting go. I totally agree with you. From 2004-2011 every student completed assignments at my school and over 90% on time. Toughest thing was letting go of “if I don’t grade it they won’t do it.” And, “if I don’t punish late work with a grade, then I am not teaching responsibility.” We built a New culture using Doug Reeves statement, “the consequence for not doing an assignment is that you still have to do it.” Culture build is tough, takes time, gets messy,but is our only ooption. Great blog, Garnet!

  3. I love this. I just engaged in a debate with parents on this topic. I think it’s interesting that they want us to “punish” their students to “teach” responsibility. Even though we report on work completion/deadlines separately from the academic grade, they think that grading the homework is our only leverage. It’s also important to work with parents on things THEY can do to support this thinking – especially the highly engaged parents. Some parents blame SBG for their student not meeting deadlines, when, in fact, the student has NEVER been good at meeting deadlines. I like that this post addresses what to do to truly change behavior.

  4. It’s a great question – one I’ve been posing for years. The question of any practice or policy is: “Is it producing the desired result?” Teachers who employ penalties still have students missing deadlines, which means the practice is failing to fulfill it’s promise of incentivizing the meeting of deadlines. Punishing the absence of a skill does not produce the skill; if we want students to be more responsible then we need to teach them how. Students don’t learn how to add fractions by being punished because they can’t; they learn how to add fractions because someone teaches me how to add fractions. When students are irresponsible they need to be taught HOW to be responsible. A student doesn’t know less because they hand their teacher something a few days after it was expected, but if the teacher lowers the score, that’s exactly what’s being communicated. Thanks Garnet!

  5. Garnet, I particarly like the part about communicating changes to the plan. Some teachers think it lets students get away with something. I think it lets them get away with an opportunity to practice effective communication and awareness of their study habits.

    I always love the specific examples you share.

  6. Yes! In everything I’ve ever read on modifying behaviors, I’ve never seen lowering scores as the consequence. It’s simply not an evidence-based strategy to improve behavior. But there is evidence that an early low score, when calculated into an overall grade, lowers student motivation. Based on this framework of evidence, lowering a grade for late work could, in fact, make the problem worse. Nice article!

  7. Excellent essay. I love that you approach this scientifically with the question “Does it work?” Outcome based pedagogy, what an idea! In my own experience kids who have trouble getting things done on time are often battling with all sorts of organization issues. Punishing them for this problem does not help them to master it. Caring relationships with teachers who are truly interested in what is going on for their students yields much better results! Also, in the end, grades should reflect the quality of the work and the learning achieved, not housekeeping issues. There should be another place to give feedback on for those behaviors.

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