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Most of my 9-week grading periods ended the same way: Me and one or two students, sitting in my quiet, empty classroom together, with me sitting at the computer, the students nearby in desks, methodically working through piles of make-up assignments. They would be focused, more focused than I’d seen them in months, and the speed with which they got through the piles was stunning. 

As they finished each assignment I took it, checked it for accuracy, then entered their scores—taking 50 percent off for being late—into my grading program. With every entry, I’d watch as their class grade went up and up: from a 37 percent to a 41, then to 45, then to 51, and eventually to something in the 60s or even low 70s, a number that constituted passing, at which point the process would end and we’d part ways, full of resolve that next marking period would be different.

And the whole time I thought to myself, This is pointless. They aren’t learning anything at all. But I wasn’t sure what else to do.

For as long as teachers have assigned tasks in exchange for grades, late work has been a problem. What do we do when a student turns in work late? Do we give some kind of consequence or accept assignments at any time with no penalty? Do we set up some kind of system that keeps students motivated while still holding them accountable? Is there a way to manage all of this without driving ourselves crazy?

To find answers, I went to Twitter and asked teachers to share what works for them. What follows is a summary of their responses. I wish I could give individual credit to each person who offered ideas, but that would take way too long, and I really want you to get these suggestions now! If you’ve been unsatisfied with your own approach to late work, you should find some fresh ideas here.

First, a Few Questions About Your Grades

Before we get into the ways teachers manage late work, let’s back up a bit and consider whether your overall program of assignments and grading is in a healthy place. Here are some questions to think about:  

  1. What do your grades represent? How much of your grades are truly based on academic growth, and how much are based mostly on compliance? If they lean more toward compliance, then what you’re doing when you try to manage late work is basically a lot of administrative paper pushing, rather than teaching your content. Although it’s important for kids to learn how to manage deadlines, do you really want an A in your course to primarily reflect the ability to follow instructions? If your grades are too compliance-based, consider how you might shift things so they more accurately represent learning. (For a deeper discussion of this issue, read How Accurate Are Your Grades?)
  2. Are you grading too many things? If you spend a lot of time chasing down missing assignments in order to get more scores in your gradebook, it could be that you’re grading too much. Some teachers only enter grades for major, summative tasks, like projects, major writing assignments, or exams. Everything else is considered formative and is either ungraded or given a very low point value for completion, not graded for accuracy; it’s practice. For teachers who are used to collecting lots of grades over a marking period, this will be a big shift, and if you work in a school where you’re expected to enter grades into your system frequently, that shift will be even more difficult. Convincing your students that ungraded practice is worthwhile because it will help their performance on the big things will be another hurdle. With all of that said, reducing the number of scored items will make your grades more meaningful and cut way down on the time you spend grading and managing late work.
  3. What assumptions do you make when students don’t turn in work? I’m embarrassed to admit that when I first started teaching, I assumed most students with missing work were just unmotivated. Although this might be true for a small portion of students, I no longer see this as the most likely reason. Students may have issues with executive function and could use some help developing systems for managing their time and responsibilities. They may struggle with anxiety. Or they may not have the resources—like time, space, and technology—to consistently complete work at home. More attention has been paid lately to the fact that homework is an equity issue, and our policies around homework should reflect an understanding that all students don’t have access to the same resources once they leave school for the day. Punitive policies that are meant to “motivate” students don’t take any of these other issues into consideration, so if your late work penalties don’t seem to be working, it’s likely that the root cause is something other than a lack of motivation.
  4. What kind of grading system is realistic for you? Any system you put in place requires YOU to stay on top of grading. It would be much harder to assign penalties, send home reminders, or track lateness if you are behind on marking papers by a week, two weeks, even a month. So whatever you do, create a plan that you can actually keep up with.

Possible Solutions

1. Penalties

Many teachers give some sort of penalty to students for late work. The thinking behind this is that without some sort of negative consequence, too many students would wait until the end of the marking period to turn work in, or in some cases, not turn it in at all. When work is turned in weeks or even months late, it can lose its value as a learning opportunity because it is no longer aligned with what’s happening in class. On top of that, teachers can end up with massive piles of assignments to grade in the last few days of a marking period. This not only places a heavy burden on teachers, it is far from an ideal condition for giving students the good quality feedback they should be getting on these assignments.

Several types of penalties are most common:

Point Deductions
In many cases, teachers simply reduce the grade as a result of the lateness. Some teachers will take off a certain number of points per day until they reach a cutoff date after which the work will no longer be accepted. One teacher who responded said he takes off 10 percent for up to three days late, then 30 percent for work submitted up to a week late; he says most students turn their work in before the first three days are over. Others have a standard amount that comes off for any late work (like 10 percent), regardless of when it is turned in. This policy still rewards students for on-time work without completely de-motivating those who are late, builds in some accountability for lateness, and prevents the teacher from having to do a lot of mathematical juggling with a more complex system. 

Parent Contact
Some teachers keep track of late work and contact parents if it is not turned in. This treats the late work as more of a conduct issue; the parent contact may be in addition to or instead of taking points away. 

No Feedback, No Re-Dos
The real value of homework and other smaller assignments should be the opportunity for feedback: Students do an assignment, they get timely teacher feedback, and they use that feedback to improve. In many cases, teachers allow students to re-do and resubmit assignments based on that feedback. So a logical consequence of late work could be the loss of that opportunity: Several teachers mentioned that their policy is to accept late work for full credit, but only students who submit work on time will receive feedback or the chance to re-do it for a higher grade. Those who hand in late work must accept whatever score they get the first time around. 

2. A Separate Work Habits Grade

In a lot of schools, especially those that use standards-based grading, a student’s grade on an assignment is a pure representation of their academic mastery; it does not reflect compliance in any way. So in these classrooms, if a student turns in good work, it’s going to get a good grade even if it’s handed in a month late. 

But students still need to learn how to manage their time. For that reason, many schools assign a separate grade for work habits. This might measure factors like adherence to deadlines, neatness, and following non-academic guidelines like font sizes or using the correct heading on a paper. 

3. Homework Passes

Because things happen in real life that can throw anyone off course every now and then, some teachers offer passes students can use to replace a missed assignment.

4. Extension Requests

Quite a few teachers require students to submit a written request for a deadline extension rather than taking points off. With a system like this, every student turns something in on the due date, whether it’s the assignment itself or an extension request.

5. Floating Deadlines

Rather than choosing a single deadline for an assignment, some teachers assign a range of dates for students to submit work. This flexibility allows students to plan their work around other life activities and responsibilities.

6. Let Students Submit Work in Progress

Some digital platforms, like Google Classroom, allow students to “submit” assignments while they are still working on them. This allows teachers to see how far the student has gotten and address any problems that might be coming up. If your classroom is mostly paper-based, it’s certainly possible to do this kind of thing with paper as well, letting students turn in partially completed work to demonstrate that an effort has been made and show you where they might be stuck.

7. Give Late Work Full Credit

Some teachers accept all late work with no penalty. Most of them agree that if the work is important, and if we want students to do it, we should let them hand it in whenever they get it done. 

8. Other Preventative Measures

These strategies aren’t necessarily a way to manage late work as much as they are meant to prevent it in the first place.

With so many different approaches to late work, what’s clear is that there are a lot of different schools of thought on grading and assessment, so it’s not a surprise that we don’t always land on the best solution on the first try. Experiment with different systems, talk to your colleagues, and be willing to try something new until you find something that works for you. 

Further Reading

 
Cover of E-Book: 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half, by Jennifer Gonzalez

20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half
This free e-book is full of ideas that can help with grading in general.

 

On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting
Thomas R. Guskey
This book came highly recommended by a number of teachers.

 

Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School
Starr Sackstein

 

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11 Comments

  1. Tanya says:

    I teach high school science (mine is a course that does not have an “end of course” test so the stakes are not as high) and I teach mostly juniors and seniors. Last year I decided not to accept any late work whatsoever unless a student is absent the day it is assigned or due (or if they have an accomodation in a 504 or IEP – and I may have had one or two students with real/documented emergencies that I let turn in late.) This makes it so much easier on me because I don’t have to keep up with how many days/points to deduct – that’s a nightmare. It also forces them to be more responsible. They usually have had time to do it in class so there’s no reason for it to be late.
    Also, I was very frustrated with homework not being completed and I hated having to grade it and keep up with absent work. So I don’t “require” homework (and rarely assign it any more) but if students do ALL (no partial credit) of it they get a 100% (small point value grade), if they are absent or they don’t do it they are exempt. So it ends up being a sort of extra credit grade but it does not really penalize students who don’t do it. When students ask me for extra credit (which I don’t usually give), the first thing I ask is if they’ve done all the homework assigned. That usually shuts down any further discussion. I’ve decided I’m not going to spend tons of time chasing and calculating grades on small point values that do not make a big difference in an overall grade. 🙂

    • Katie says:

      Do I understand correctly….

      Homework is not required. If a student fully completes the HW, they will earn full points. If the student is absent or doesn’t do it, they are excused. Students who do complete the HW will benefit a little bit in their overall grade, but students who don’t compete the work will not be penalized. Did I understand it correctly?

      Do you stipulate that a student must earn a certain % on the assignment to get the full points? What about a student who completed an assignment but completes the entire thing incorrectly? Still full credit? Or an opportunity to re-do?

      Thank you in advance.

  2. Jane Hunn says:

    Our school has a system called Catch Up Cafe. Students with missing work report to a specific teacher during the first 15 minutes of lunch to work on missing work. Students upgrade to a Wednesday after school time if they have accumulated 4 or more missing assignments on any Monday. They do not have to serve if they can clear ALL missing work by the end of the day Wednesday. Since work is not dragging out for a long period of time, most teachers do not take off points.

    • Cathy Berkley says:

      How do you manage the logistics of who has missing and how many assignments are needed to be completed-to make sure they are attending the Catch up Cafe or Wednesday after school? How do you manage the communication with parents?

  3. I find that the worst part of tracking make-up work is keeping tabs on who was absent for a school activity, illness or other excused absence, and who just didn’t turn in the assignment. I obviously have to accept work turned in “late” due to an excused absence, but I can handle the truly late work however I wish. Any advice on simplifying tracking for this?

    • Melinda says:

      I tell my students to simply write “Absent (day/s)” at the top of the paper. I remind them of this fairly regularly. That way, if they were absent, it’s their responsibility to notify me, and it’s all together. If you create your own worksheets, etc., you could add a line to the top as an additional reminder.

    • Hi Vicky,

      It might be worth checking out Evernote.

  4. Kate says:

    This is SUCH a difficult issue and I have tried a few of the suggested ways in years past. My questions is… how do we properly prepare kids for college while still being mindful of the inequities at home? We need to be sure that we are giving kids opportunity, resources, and support, but at the same time if we don’t introduce them to some of the challenges they will be faced with in college (hours of studying and research and writing regardless of the hours you might have to spend working to pay that tuition), are we truly preparing them? I get the idea of mastery of content without penalty for late work and honestly that is typically what I go with, but I constantly struggle with this and now that I will be moving from middle to high school, I worry even more about the right way to handle late work and homework. I don’t want to hold students back in my class by being too much of a stickler about seemingly little things, but I don’t want to send them to college unprepared to experience a slap in the face, either. I don’t want to provide extra hurdles, but how do I best help them learn how to push through the hurdles and rigor if they aren’t held accountable? I always provide extra time after school, at lunch, etc., and have also experienced that end of term box checking of assignments in place of a true learning experience, but how do we teach them the importance of using resources, asking for help, allowing for mistakes while holding them to standards and learning work habits that will be helpful to them when they will be on their own? I just don’t know where the line is between helping students learn the value of good work habits and keeping them from experiencing certain challenges they need to understand in order to truly get ahead.

    • Hey Kate,

      Thanks for sharing – I can tell how much you care for your students, wanting them to be confident independent learners. What I think I’m hearing is perhaps the struggle between that fine line of enabling and supporting. When supporting kids, whether academically or behaviorally, we’re doing something that assists or facilitates their growth. So, for example, a student that has anxiety or who doesn’t have the resources at home to complete an assignment, we can assist by giving that student extra time or an alternative place to complete the assignment. This doesn’t lower expectations, it just offers support to help them succeed.

      Enabling on the other hand, puts systems in place that don’t involve consequences, which in turn allow the behaviors to continue. It involves excuses and solving problems for others. It may be about lowering expectations and letting people get by with patterns of behavior.

      Late work is tricky. The article does mention the importance of time management, which is why separating academic grades from work habits is something a lot of schools are doing. Sometimes real life happens and kids need a “pass.” If whatever you’re doing seems to be helping to support a student rather than enabling patterns, then that might help you distinguish between that fine line. Hope this helps!

  5. Thank you again for such a great post. Always high-quality, relevant, and helpful. I so appreciate you and the work you do!

    🙂 Liz

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