Late Penalties?

Throughout the years, I’ve heard a lot of arguments against giving penalties for late student work.

Back in February, Tom Shimmer outlined some of the arguments against late penalties in a post, and they reflect the main argument I’ve heard again and again: students should be evaluated on the learning they can demonstrate, not punctuality.  I don’t, in principle, disagree with this argument.  It would be ideal if I could get a direct measurement of a student’s learning without any interference from other factors.

However, I’m not sure this is ever possible.  Can the learning of specific skills and material in a specific domain be separated from everything else?  This has always struck me as weirdly compartmentalized.  Yes, I know the student is supposed to demonstrate the achievement of competencies – for example, she can identify a specific theme from a text she’s read, or she can write a sentence that correctly uses the present perfect.  But in most evaluations, these skills are inextricably bound up with other things.  For example, if a student can identify a clear theme in her own mind but can’t state it in a way that an intelligent reader can understand, how can she get full points for that criterion?  If she writes a paragraph in which the present perfect is required, and uses the present perfect correctly throughout but botches all her other verb tenses, does she get 100% for the paragraph?

Maybe.  The question becomes murkier when we talk about evaluating skills and behaviours that cross disciplines.  If I am a history teacher, do I evaluate my students’ ability to write correct English in their history papers?  Should this count toward some portion of their grade?  Yes, many educators will insist, because literacy and clear communication are cross-disciplinary skills.

Aha.  In that case, could it be argued that carrying work out in a timely manner – as one will inevitably have to do in any job, whether it involve writing memos or changing diapers – is also a cross-disciplinary skill?  Should this be one of the competencies addressed in their course work?

I would argue yes.  However, it occurs to me now that a late penalty is not the same as an evaluation criterion.  Instead of imposing a penalty, maybe I should dedicate 5 or 10% of the grade for each paper to “punctual submission,” much as I do for MLA formatting.  Students who submit papers on time will get the full 10%.  That way, punctuality would be evaluated the same way as all other competencies.

But then, what do I do about a student who comes to me at the end of the term and wants to submit several assignments, when the assignments are cumulative and completing them all in a short time will minimize their benefit?  What do I do when the grade submission deadline rolls around and some students have still not submitted all work?  Do I argue that the administration give me an extension too, or give incompletes (which are not given at my college except for medical reasons) on pedagogical principle?  Schimmer says that he doesn’t receive a “flood” of assignments at the end of term even though he doesn’t impose late penalties.  However, he also doesn’t explain how he deals with individual stragglers (except to mention that students who struggle with deadlines need to be “supported” – how? – and that he contacts parents – not an option when you’re a college teacher.)  How does one run a class without firm deadlines?

How do you deal with late work?  Do you agree that there is no place for late penalties in learning?  Do you have ways of making things run smoothly even if students don’t feel that it’s essential to hand their work in on time?

Image by Chris Gilbert


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41 thoughts on “Late Penalties?

  1. Well, since I worked for 3 years in Evaluation at the Department of Education, I got to see another side of this controversial issue. So I’ll make it as short and sweet as I can. For what it’s worth, when I was in the classroom, I always struggled with this….students will be students, and they will ‘test’ us….so we need something, right

    1. In a formal evaluation setting: (in my opinion) this means an assignment that has a remittance date, one that the whole class knows about. Assuming the delay is a reasonable one (one you have verified with students upon giving it), then I believe that students who DO NOT submit their work on time SHOULD BE PENALIZED. It’s a question of fairness. Those who do submit on time may get the message: “So why did I kill myself to get it in, only to see that if I was late, nothing would change? That’s not fair. Next time I won’t bother…”

    2. If the assignment is more of a ‘practice’, without having a mark attached to it, (it could be a homework, etc) then I DON’T believe that marks should be allotted to it. Many teachers, (I did this in my career, so I know) use ‘marks’ as a way to FORCE students to do their work, to keep control. Without judging this, as I know it’s not easy for teachers, I honestly believe that marks should be used to show what the student KNOWS, not what he/she DOES. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. This became clear to me after working in evaluation….

    The bottom line is this: fairness should, in my opinion, prevail in any setting, evaluation or otherwise. Whether it be an assignment, homework exercises, test, whatever. All students should be on the SAME PLAYING FIELD as they are going to be evaluated the same – right, teacher? 🙂 Objectively and the same for all, whether the first copy or the last….(hear the tongue in cheek tone? I know how HARD this is too….)

    Using marks to control/force students to do their work doesn’t seem right to me. Students, especially at the college level, are absolutely old enough to know better. Compare it to ‘real life’; if they show up late for work, there are consequences…so it’s up to you to decide what yours are. There are surely other options out there – I hope readers share theirs!

    Good luck to all of you…I do sympathize.


    1. I forgot to mention in #1 that on top of a remittance date, a % also needs to be attached to it. All assignments that ‘count’ should be considered FORMAL evaluation.



    2. Gen X: I too have always put it down to “fairness.” However, when it comes to small in-class and homework assignments, I do not accept anything late, and I do it for a version of the “class control” reason you describe.

      We are not allowed to give marks for attendance, so I attach a point to every in-class/homework activity the students hand in, and calculate a percentage out of 10% or 15% at the end. It’s really a concrete way to calculate a “participation” grade (and of course, “participation” is a controversial subject of its own). It all has to be handed in at exactly the right time, as the work is cumulative, and doing it all at the end of term is not useful. I have never been comfortable attaching grades to this formative work at all, but time and time again I have learned that if there is no grade attached, students won’t do the work – and who can blame them? I did the same thing when I was in college.

      So I continue to struggle with this one, but am not willing to compromise on it just yet, as it is such a strong incentive – it may not measure learning, but it brings about more learning, as the students actually do the work – but, of course, it makes grades even more arbitrary than they already are, which is a problem.

      I’m hoping to write a post sometime soon on “gradeless colleges” (and I believe you were one of the people that asked that I write something about evaluation vs. grades – it’s a big topic that I have a lot of questions about).


  2. This same debate goes on with penalizing poor attendance, lack of class participation, and disruptive behavior. The arguments surrounding each are the same.

    What people overlook is that assignments have TWO purposes, not just evaluation but also instruction. Since timeliness, attendance, participation, and comportment all influence the teacher’s ability to successfully teach, they are legitimate criteria for grading.


    1. Asur: “assignments have TWO purposes, not just evaluation but also instruction.” I think if we could impress upon everyone that this is the case, there would be less insistence among educational theorists that grades should be some sort of pure, objective measurement of learning. Grades are arbitrary, and measure myriad things, and sometimes wish we could all just accept that.


    2. However: my interpretation of “instruction” is a bit different from yours, I think. I agree that using grades to control behaviour may sometimes be a necessary evil, but I would frame it, not as facilitating “the teacher’s ability to teach,” but as facilitating a student’s learning. For example, if a student doesn’t do work in a timely manner, he or she will not be able to understand later concepts; if he or she doesn’t have a concrete incentive to come to class, he or she will ultimately learn less. We might be saying the same thing in different words, though.


      1. Siobhan, I completely agree with you and the way you are saying it. I teach high school, so it’s different for me (I work with parents. Boy, do I.). I’d like to borrow the idea you’ve expressed here and put it in my syllabus to explain why there is a penalty for late work in my class: They will learn less, or slower.

        My students have an ‘integrity’ grade which covers everything from failure to bring supplies to plagiarism. Late work is included on that list; it’s a bit of a complicated system, and it isn’t perfect. I may have commented on it before somewhere here. It’s five percent of the overall grade (before the final exam is factored in). I grade the work like all the others*, but they lose half the total point value in integrity points. So a twenty point assignment for which you have earned 16 points has eight points subtracted from your integrity grade for lateness. It seems like very little, but the numbers add up for those with chronic issues. For those students who continue to turn in work late, it often makes the difference between the A (they believe they so richly deserve — I teach some entitled kids) and the B, the B or the C.

        I think my grades reflect mostly the skills mastery of a student, and 5% the behaviors that either inhibit or lead to better understanding.

        *Surprisingly I do not get a lot of students who simply want the extra time to do a splendid job. Late work is usually slightly to significantly worse than work turned in on time, so I don’t worry too much about being called out on fairness.


  3. Interesting… comments:

    1. “when it comes to small in-class and homework assignments, I do not accept anything late, and I do it for a version of the “class control” reason you describe.”: I concur!

    2.”I attach a point to every in-class/homework activity the students hand in, and calculate a percentage out of 10% or 15% at the end. It’s really a concrete way to calculate a “participation” grade” : This is a pretty good compromise between ‘theory’ and ‘practicality’ (BTW, that’s why I believe this is such a controversial and difficult issue for teachers). It’s subtle, and if not worth too much of the overall mark (meaning not overriding a ‘formal’ assignment) then I can absolutely live with this. 🙂

    3.”I have never been comfortable attaching grades to this formative work at all, but time and time again I have learned that if there is no grade attached, students won’t do the work – and who can blame them? I did the same thing when I was in college.”: Me too….absolutely and this part is why I think it’s so hard for teachers….we were students too, and not always the ‘keeners’! 😉

    I agree with Siobhan regarding your comment about the 2 purposes of assignments: Siobhan’s answer sums up my views: “my interpretation of “instruction” is a bit different from yours, I think. I agree that using grades to control behaviour may sometimes be a necessary evil, but I would frame it, not as facilitating “the teacher’s ability to teach,” but as facilitating a student’s learning.”

    I think more often than not the ‘LEARNING’ gets forgotten or dismissed because of administrative constraints, big classes, and some teachers’ arrogance related to THEIR CONTENT that they MUST pass on….never forget that a classroom is a ‘give and take’ – sometimes the teacher is the ‘star’ but students have to have the opportunity to contribute and ask questions ‘on the spot’ – that’s how we learn, no? As a teacher, I often asked myself (and stil do in my consultant’s job developing online material): “What will my students LEARN by doing this?” If I can’t answer that, then I need to rethink the purpose of the assignment. And sometimes, they learned little ‘content’; instead they learned writing, speaking, or comprehension skills that would ultimately serve them in FUTURE assignments…


    1. We are not saying different things.

      Every instance of teaching is necessarily an instance of learning; we teach specifically so that our students can learn. Our teaching is measured by their learning.


  4. OKP: the idea of an “Integrity” grade is very interesting. I’m not sure whether I could get away with such a thing, as I need to tie all my grades – at least superficially – to the ministerial “competencies” the students are supposed to master. However, I’m going to give this some thought, because it’s one way to deal with the fact that, as far as I’m concerned, “English” is not the only thing I’m teaching. Thank you!


  5. OKP: Well said! I too was a high school teacher…I think your ‘solution’ is doable and as fair as fair can be. I’m not a purist, but I find sometimes we forget about fairness…that’s all.

    Keeping a balance is key, whatever that balance involves. And the name you give this, INTEGRITY grade, is fantastic….(some) students may also learn a new word through this! 🙂

    Onwards and upwards….


  6. I have struggled with this as well as a college teacher. My solution has been to work with students on a case by case basis. If a student comes to me before an assignment is due, with concerns about their ability to get it in on time, I will nearly always give them an extension with no penalty. For students who just turn things in late, I accept at reduced credit up until the next one is due. Some assignments, by their nature, can’t be turned in late. So I try to remain flexible. I believe that part of education is to prepare students for the real life world. There are many situations where due dates must be followed very strictly, and there are often negative consequences attached to doing any number of things late. At the same time, I am not sure how being an unsympathetic hard nose in every situation teaches them a dang thing. Great post Siobhan, and lots of thought provoking comments!


    1. Jessica: I too usually give extensions if students come to me ahead of time, and I state explicitly on my course outline that “Extensions will be given only in exceptional circumstances, and not on or after the due date.” I find it tricky to be both flexible AND fair – it’s a constant balancing act!


  7. Jessica and Siobhan, I think your approach, in this particular circumstance, is perfect! (well, if perfect exists, yet that’s another debate…).

    I believe you are doing your best to be flexible and fair….and that is the most important thing.


  8. Partly, I believe my responsibility is to teach the students responsibility. OF COURSE I want them to grasp the material. OF COURSE I believe that I should grade them on their ability to exercise that knowledge. But I don’t think it’s fair to excuse irresponsibility as a category all its own.

    I tell my students that responsible is more employable than intelligent most days of the week. It’s rare I can think of an instance in which an employer would take an intelligent irresponsible person over one who may not be the smartest but understands punctuality and dependability.


    1. I should also mention my policy…(guess I forgot that was the point of my post.)

      I don’t accept late work as a general rule; however, I do tell my students that everyone has “life happens” situations. If “life happens” to you, then you should make the effort to come see me before school begins, explain your circumstances and we will work accordingly.

      I feel like this requirement still demands responsibility on the part of the student and allows me to respond flexibly to their own self advocacy.


    2. CH: All this talk of policies reminds me of one I like but have never used. Years ago I had a colleague (now retired) who told students, “Each of you can ask me for ONE favour this semester. It can be for a late assignment, or missed in-class work, or a rewrite, or whatever. But you get only one. Use your favour wisely.”


      1. I think that’s interesting. I would have a difficult time remembering who had used their favor.

        I basically require rewrites, too. Essentially, students receive two grades. If they receive a “B” or better, they can just double the original grade. If they receive a “C” or lower, they are required to rewrite the paper and earn an entirely new grade. (Hence, two grades.)

        This is my first year incorporating the policy after allowing the students to rewrite any paper for a better grade as long as they conferenced wtih me first. I’m hoping this will be a more successful policy.


  9. Great discussion. The heart of this dilemma is the complex nature of the art and skill of teaching, of helping our students learn. There is never one way that always works for all students. I agree that there needs to be some way to insist on punctuatlity and such, they are life and job skills–and learning those might be the best lessons a student takes away from a class. But mastering the course content is another matter, and the student needs time to practice before mastery sets in, so rewrites and flexibility and showing the general skills that are essential in all courses must be addressed as well. I have been in education for over 30 years, first as a college writing teacher and more recently as a dean. But I have no final answers–but I like all the suggestions in the comments above. Paticipation points that cannot be made up if absent can keep all engaged in the day’s activities and encourages good attendance. Chances for rewrites and/or scaffolded assignments–turn in these first, then first draft, then later correct copy, etc. accumulating points along the way. One of the keys is telling students up front what they will be held accountable to and then convincing them that the major focus is on demonstrating mastery of content or skill.

    The idea that students can use one favor a semester is a lot like what one of my faculty provides as an option for students. She issues them 2 no-need-to-explain-why-late passes. The student attaches them to the paper that is coming in no more than a week late. So she keeps track with what they submit. Others give students the chance to just skip a couple of the homework-type assignments by throwing out the 2 or 3 lowest grades equal to however many absences are deemed allowable by policy. For some students that is absences, for others it is a calculated decision. When I was in class, I would explain to the students which assignments were more the complete these they will help you improve your writing over time activities like keeping a journal. They would typically be worth 10 or maybe 15% of the total course grade. If the student decides not to complete that journal, their decision on time management,e tc., but the consequence is not being able to earn more than 85 or 90% total for a final grade.

    I miss being in the classroom. It is great to see/hear professionals sharing their ideas and insights on how to best help students master their own learning!


  10. I taught middle school, a bit different than college. I was a stickler about deadlines and took points off if assignments were late. Unless an extenuating circumstance, note from parent, etc. When I taught college, it seemed the students had even more issues– but I still tried to enforce deadlines. Few jobs tolerate lateness; I think it’s part of teaching responsibility, time management, and self-respect. So set a policy and try to stick with it!


  11. I teach 9th grade and I think it is my job to teach not only my subject, English, but also life skills that students will need when they graduate high school. As many have already said, timelines is a skill that students need, plain and simple. I give clear due dates and adequate time to complete assignments. Students know they can come to me or e-mail me if they have an issue. I will never deny a student that sees me personally, in advance, extra time to complete an assignment. At the same time, I cannot, and will not, accept late homework or classwork assignments. It is just way too much work on my part. I think that in college you have less students and usually less assignments (I know I did as a student). In high school we give kids so many different assignments. They have many opportunities to improve their grades and do better. For major projects I usually take off a letter grade for each day it is late. Frankly, if I wasn’t such a stickler, my students would turn in things whenever they wanted. I just can’t handle that.


    1. TG: My policy is the same as yours when it comes to homework and classwork (see comments above). It is simply impossible for me to allow students to hand this stuff in whenever they feel like it, especially as the work is cumulative – if they miss an assignment here or there they won’t drown, but they need to get back on track immediately. One problem with accepting late work, it seems to me, is that some students may take the attitude that “I’ll get caught up on previous assignments before I do this one,” and before you know it, they’re too overwhelmed with late work to get caught up on anything.


  12. I love this post as it has been a point of discussion in my department (I work at a secondary school). When children come into our classes, they are about twelve or thirteen years old, and as neuro-psychological research points out, the connection in the frontal lobe of the brain have not been fully developed yet which basically means planning is a skill that’s extremely hard for them. Consequently, we can’t expect them to be able to plan flawlessly, however we do need to provide them with opportunities for developing this skill. So, we set dates for handing in assignments.

    Too often we only set the due date, and we don’t get involved with the planning process. I think this has to change. So, what I plan on doing the coming school year, is breaking up the assignments in smaller bits that are due at different points in time. Eventually they will have the entire assignment ready at the due date. The parts will get bigger every following assignment, requiring more planning from the pupils themselves.

    In the Netherlands, we mostly work with numeral grades from 1 (extremely poor) to 10 (perfect). Last year, I would give pupils a penalty of half a point each day they were late (without a valid reason) until they were a week late, and I just gave them a ‘1’. However, they still needed to do the coursework, so they needed to still hand it in or do it over. The grade they’d receive for the late assignment was averaged with the previously earned ‘1’. I’m not happy with this system, however, but struggling with finding a good solution. Also, it would have to be a solution a lot of my colleagues would agree with, since we are all for a single and clear policy.


    1. bvulcanius:

      I love your goal to help students meet due dates by walking them through the planning stages. I often do this by having them do a draft of an assignment in class, then come to me to discuss my feedback, then bring another version to get feedback from peers and evaluate themselves etc. Even when they hit college, some of them are still struggling with planning!


  13. I attended an Assessment Training Institute conference this summer and had a chance to listen to Shimmer speak. He is very similar to Ken O’Connor and Robert Marzano in his philosophies, and my school is adopting the work of both. I have to say that I really love what we are doing with assessment these days.

    Our grades are now composed of 90% summative assessments (major tests, essays, etc.) and 10% work habits (participation, work completion, leadership, and collaboration). When a student turns in an assignment past the due date, the assignment itself is marked only for what it shows about student learning. The student is penalized in the work habits portion of his/her grade. This allows us to reflect actual learning with the grades on the assignments while still holding students accountable for their work habits, but the final grade does still reflect the mix of both sections. In the long run, we would like to include work habits as a separate section on the report card to provide the most accurate portrayal of a student’s abilities to future schools and employers.

    In terms of the potential “flood” of assignments at the end of the semester, we have instituted a school-wide policy of a one-week grace period. If students do not turn in late work (or initiate a re-take, another aspect of our assessment reform) within one week of the due date, they may no longer turn in the assignment.


    1. MrsB:
      I like the idea of a separate “work habits” grade. At the same time, I’m still a bit resistant to the idea that an assignment can be “marked only for what it shows about student learning”. I do try to make my criteria as precise as possible, but I still end up feeling that the ways student learning expresses itself are so amorphous … and so tangled up with a million other things in any assessment … I’m going to have to give this a bit more thought.


  14. I teach college English at a community college. The overwhelming majority of my students have no interest in writing. They view writing essays as something that is only done in college. They do not come in with the notion that writing is important. In other words, they aren’t terribly motivated to get their work done on time without some serious incentives.

    When I first started teaching, I accepted late papers up to one week with a 20% deduction. I thought students would do everything they could to avoid losing points. I thought wrong. I was swamped with late papers.

    Then I changed the policy to say that papers would not be accepted late, but I gave the students until midnight on the due date so they could email the assignment if something unavoidable had prevented them from coming to class to turn the assignment in. I envisioned a scenario where a student was driving to class, completed assignment snuggly packed in his backpack, and had a car accident. With the midnight deadline, it gave the student time to get home and send the assignment via email without a penalty. I thought this would be seen as a blessing to be used on a rare (if ever) occasion. Instead, I had students come to class empty-handed or skip class completely because they knew that as long as I received their assignments by midnight, I wouldn’t count off. This created MORE work because I had to make extra trips to campus to print off dozens of student papers. Yet again, my best intentions backfired.

    Now, I don’t accept late papers at all. Assignments are given well in advance so students have plenty of time to complete them. It may sound harsh, but I teach at the college level. The goal of most of these students is to get a degree so they can get a better job. Deadlines are everywhere. Employers want employees who manage time well and show up on time to work. Employees who don’t show up to work or don’t get their work done in a timely manner are fired. Can you imagine waiting in line at a Starbucks or Taco Bell and waiting for an hour for your order to be taken because the employee was procrastinating? No one would tolerate that.

    I certainly understand grading a paper on essay structure, grammar, spelling, etc. I do that. But I can’t grade a paper that doesn’t exist. And I feel it’s a disservice to my students to continue to allow them to think that they can ignore deadlines. The deadline is part of the criteria. On some level, it might be considered to be the ultimate criteria. Time management is critical, not only in college, but in the workforce as well.


    1. Susan: I certainly sympathize with this approach. My -5% per day, no submissions after a week method seems to work well, but I think it depends on the students you’re working with and their attitude toward the course and their course grade. I have students submit almost all their at-home work online, and I mark it electronically as well, so most of their deadlines are at midnight, and that works fine for me. One other thing students have to learn is that different teachers, like different bosses, have different expectations!


      1. Siobhan: herein lies the problem teachers face, as you have said – One other thing students have to learn is that different teachers, like different bosses, have different expectations!

        From reading these posts, it seems many of us grapple with this….wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if there was a basic, reasonable institutional policy that teachers followed? I know most do have one, but in my experience, some teachers apply it as they see fit, if at all. And it’s usually less strict than the actual policy.

        Why is it that in school, we accept unacceptable behaviour, while in the workplace, it is less tolerated? I like the example mentioned above: if you went to Starbucks but had to wait a for your coffee because the barrista procrastinated or had a lame excuse, would you accept it? Of course not. And on top of that, the barrista wouldn’t think of NOT making your Chai latte as quickly and as efficiently as possible….

        So why, in an educational setting, are we still so lenient? I believe we are not teaching students much (only how to ‘screw’ the system and still get by) and they are therefore not well prepared for the workplace, a place they will spend the rest of their lives….

        Food for thought, no?


        1. Paulette:
          You’ve raised a number of good points here. When we’re working, we are expected to accomplish things on time. If we don’t, we’re likely to get fired. However, there are often extenuating circumstances, things get shifted, etc. Anyone who works in an office has experienced “I need this by end of day” turning into, “Well, ok, if you can at least get me this, we can wait until tomorrow for that” and so forth. Also, in the workplace, most of our tasks are likely (but not guaranteed) to be connected to each other in some way – whereas a student who is taking 8 courses may find that she has three things due on Monday, all completely unrelated. She has to learn to juggle this, but LEARNING to juggle it is the key here – how do we best encourage learning this skill, rather than just inflicting punishment?


  15. I think we’ve hit the ‘bo-bo’…students learn content/knowledge at school, but must also learn life skills. Each year, new ‘skills’ are introduced, but I think it’s obvious that more often than not, college teachers (and rightly so) EXPECT students to have mastered certain life skills only to find that this is not the case. Maybe this is a reflection of themselves as well, (I know lots of teachers who are often late, don’t always get their marks in on time, etc) and maybe they are in denial of this yet know deep down how important it is to do. Maybe if teachers talked more amongst themselves about their due dates, their expectations, and came to a general consensus, students would know that they couldn’t bull shit their way out of not doing the work. I don’t know…I’m thinking off the top of my head at this point. But teachers have enough on their plates and don’t need to be managing students like a “mother/father” would…especially college level students. Yet society is ever-changing, and students think (not all, however) they are “above” the requirements…as their reason for not doing the work is usually very ‘real’ in their minds…


  16. Coming to this post late. Ha!

    I like your idea about including punctuality as part of the grade. There needs to be some sort of consequence for lateness for the sake of the students. Obviously, the students who do their work in a timely fashion may resent the late ones who can get the same grade. But I think the deadline and consequences are essential for the students who tend to be late. Limits actually help students, and deadlines are a limit.

    That said, I do make allowances for truly justified lateness, but even there, the student and I work out a plan for him/her to catch up as soon as possible because a paper drag on just makes matters worse. For instance, if a student gets sick right before winter break when a major paper is due, I set a due date a few days into break and no later, arguing that the student does not want to spend the whole break with the dread of a paper hanging in the air.

    Finally, I will add one technique I stumbled onto when dealing with second semester seniors, who really have a hard time motivating themselves. Every senior must complete a final term paper in English second semester. My students often asked the (shall I admit it, very irritating) question of how late can they be and still pass. I turned the whole thing around by giving extra points for timeliness one year–a point for each day others are late, but then, the next year, a thunderbolt of an idea hit me and I have used it ever since: all the students will get 5 extra points on their essays if they all turn their essays in on the due date. Takes the whole motivation thing out of my hands and places it on theirs. I have seen students checking in daily with the one or two who tend to be late, encouraging them, helping them. It’s worked like a charm for 4 years now.


    1. Grendelordarcy:

      What an inspired technique! I am going to have to put that one in my pocket, too. I like the idea of other students putting the pressure on – it reflects the structure of most workplaces very well!


  17. Great discussion and I will be honest and say I’m going to have to come back to finish reading all the comments, so this may be repetitive. I have a few things that impact my acceptance of “late” work. Some are old, some are new. I typically accept late work for a slight loss in points – my syllabus reads that I have the right to deduct 10% of the grade for each class day it is late. I don’t always deduct that amount though – its a case-by-case basis as someone said above. I also will only hold students to a standard that I am willing to meet, so sometimes I will accept late work because I am running behind in grading. But, the whole class will typically get that message. Finally, I will accept work on time and then accept a revised version from someone for a higher grade if I can see distinct improvements (I don’t read the first version typically, but it has to be COMPLETE – if not perfect) and they can complete the revision within one week of the date. Again, I will announce this to the whole class – the goal is to get them to attempt the assignment completely but feel like they have some time to go back and perfect it versus having NOTHING done on the date it is due…I usually do this for assignments that have some discussion of them after the due date, when students might come to some realization about their work during the discussion. But, at least the discussion is valuable because most have attempted the assignment. I also do peer reviews of major assignments in class a week before they are due and I find that it helps because they will often have a very rough version of the assignment during the review and then get a bad grade because the feedback was so basic – the next assignment, they will do a better job on the “rough” draft to get better feedback to get a better grade. Process, process, process is what I try to focus on.

    Thanks for posting though – definitely going to come back and read the rest of the comments and your suggestions before writing my next syllabus!


    1. Sue: accepting a draft and then allowing a week for a revision is an interesting tactic – I’ll have to think about that. I also like using peer review – its effect is always surprising!


  18. I’m a bit behind the times on this one, but I figured I’d throw in my perspective. As a journalism student, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of meeting deadlines in my classes. Not one of my college-level journalism professors has accepted late work under any circumstances (documented emergencies notwithstanding, obviously). If you don’t turn in the paper, blog post, or photo story by 12 midnight (or whenever) on the dot, you get a zero. The end.

    As someone who struggled a LOT with deadlines in high school, I was initially terrified of this policy. It’s almost too embarrassing to remember the massive amount of points I lost due to late work back then. I’m a good writer – I know this – but despite my consistently A-quality work, I was getting Cs on most of my papers. I knew I would still pass if I left the work off until a week, two weeks past the due date. One time I actually turned in a paper two months late. My teacher yelled at me in front of the whole class until I cried. I don’t blame him – it must have been so frustrating to watch me derail my own success so totally. (Funnily enough, that teacher and I are now great friends, but that’s a different story.)

    But in my journalism classes, such behavior is absolutely not an option. I mean, it is, but the consequences are so grave that even I – chronic procrastinator that I am – would think to slack off. Expectations rose, but as it turns out I was able to rise with them. I am proud to report that in 3+ years of turning in college assignments, I have never turned one in even a few minutes late. It might seem a bit extreme, but by leaving no wiggle room for me my professors have given me the opportunity to surprise myself, and I am much more prepared for “real life” in the journalism world for it.


    1. As a former and now a project manager with DEADLINES, I am very happy to hear you have understood the importance of getting stuff in on time. Deadlines are not to constrict your ‘creativity’ but you must understand that:
      1. Teachers give deadlines to have AMPLE time to evaluate the work. They have many things to handle, and must organise accordingly to be able to meet his/her deadlines (school, etc).
      2. Employers give deadlines to have time to adequately edit the work and get the piece out on time (newspaper printing, etc)

      Deadlines are there because often, there is A CHAIN in the scheme of things. Getting your work on time is important in the chain – if there is one weak link, the whole project could be compromised. It’s not only about you…..

      No one gives deadlines to piss people off – but please always remember that most people (teachers and employers alike) often PLAN things to the best of their ability. So meeting deadlines is so important for the BIG picture. I am glad to hear you have understood that – I, and all others who impose deadlines, THANK YOU!


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