An Alternative to Due Dates

Of the many memories I have from high school, many come from my grade 9 physical education teacher. On several occasions, he would have us run the track out back of the school as a warm-up at the start of class. If it started to rain, we would start to whinge, to which he would kindly remind us, in his authoritarian tone, “you’re not made of sugar; you won’t melt, boys.” As a class, we appreciated his sense of humour and his level-headedness, even when things didn’t always go according to plan.

Another memory of this same teacher is his explanation of the “drop-dead date”; the due date, was, of course, the day in which an assignment was due. However, the drop-dead date, often a couple of days later, was the very last chance we had to get the assignment submitted. This gave us some flexibility as students and provided us with a couple of extra days to complete our work if needed.

 

When I started teaching, I had a simple due date. However, I decided to change tactics after growing frustration with this model. For the past couple of years, I had modelled my own due date policy after this style. My terminology, due date and “zero hour”, was a little less morbid, and my caveat, allowing students to get feedback in between these dates, was less rigid. My hope was that students could aim to submit their work on the due date and then have until the zero hour to seek teacher, peer, or self-feedback, make any necessary edits, and resubmit as many times as needed. If it wasn’t completed by the due date, they would still have to make a submission but there was no sweating the unfinished work as long as it was completed by the zero hour.

Upon the zero hour, students would then submit their final work. If a student did not make a resubmission, I would simply mark their submission from the due date. As such, students knew that it was potentially high stakes if they waited until the last minute to submit the assignment as I would not accept late work. My aim wasn’t to try to ‘catch’ the late submitters but rather to give all students flexibility by providing an opportunity for feedback ahead of the final submission whilst still honouring the value of responsibility and organization.

Yet I still felt as though this process could be refined as I was dealing with an internal struggle of philosophies. One, understanding that, while being mindful of student mental health and well-being, all or nothing scenarios create unnecessary stress and anxiety. The other being the inherent value (and necessity) of responsibility, ownership, and studentship. Students knew that, as long as they contacted me a couple of days in advance, I would give them an agreed-upon extension, no questions asked. So to have a student who did not reach out, have incomplete work for the due date, not seek feedback, and then miss the zero hour seemed to me as though they were not meeting their commitments as a student. Of course, though, we don’t always know and realize the full picture when it comes to why a student did not or was not able to make a submission. As such, I continued to struggle with this battle of differences. I know that, currently, some colleagues simply accept late submissions from students while others are much more rigid. I’m not suggesting that one practice is inherently better than another, though I do think there is a value in both offering students flexibility and nurturing responsibility and time management within students.

Ultimately, I come back to the need for balance and the demands that are placed on students, particularly at boarding schools. That’s why, this year, I tried an alternative to due dates through a ‘publishing week’. Firstly, I wanted to rebrand the notion of something being due, which has come to have negative connotations for students. Instead, I refer to it as publishing because that’s exactly what writers do: they publish their work and can feel proud of their efforts. I can’t take full credit for this terminology, as I’m sure I heard it in one education sphere or another. From there, the process is similar to the one described above, but students actually have an entire week to get work completed if needed.

Essentially, they submit whatever they have on the first publishing date, but there is no pressure or repercussion if the work is not finished; in fact, I encourage students to take their time with the writing process. Then, students have the entire week to seek feedback from me, the school writing centre, a peer, or anyone else they would like to assist them. While I give students time in class before the publishing week to work on the assignment, I also specifically give them time in class during the publishing week so that they can refine their work and seek assistance from me as they are writing. At the end of the week, we have our final publishing date, wherein I tell students that I will mark their last submission. They can submit once, twice, or 50 times; it’s up to them.

Generally, the results have been quite positive. The products themselves are also often more refined, as I now see students thinking more readily during the writing process and, anecdotally, students feel less pressure as a result of having a full week to submit rather than a single day. I still do not accept work after the publishing week; however, I’m able to reconcile this notion with the fact that I let students bring in any work they want for our unit conference. Thus, if a student has not completed an assignment at the end of the publishing week, I encourage them to finish the task so that we can discuss it during our unit conference. In that way, the student could actually still get rewarded on the unit conference for the work they chose to complete despite the tardiness of the submission.

The process isn’t perfect, and I’m certain there is still room for refinement, but it’s an alternative to stand-alone due dates. Moreover, it has allowed me to better mediate that internal struggle between the need for student balance and responsibility. At the very least, this approach has more thought behind its design as compared to my first policy, offers students flexibility with their time and ideas, and doesn’t encourage students to ‘drop dead’ if they miss a submission.

 

Follow and tweet @Bjeblack to let me know how you approach due dates in your classroom!

12 thoughts on “An Alternative to Due Dates

  1. “They can submit once, twice, or 50 times; it’s up to them.“

    Do you give feedback once, twice, or 50 times… or do you just mark the final submission?

    • Great question, Art. I’m currently in the process of changing my feedback model, which I’ll be writing about soon, as I am now writing and commenting alongside students, directly in their documents. In the past though, I’ve given feedback throughout the duration of the publishing week, regardless of where students are at in the process. As such, my feedback hasn’t been on the condition of a student submission. I also don’t “take a look over” students’ work; I teach them to ask what specific aspect of their work they want me to review and then I only review one aspect at a time. I hope that answers your question!

      • @bblack Love this “specific aspect” approach to reviewing students’ work. “Is this what you want?” and “Did I do this right?” can be such frustrating questions, because they are often so directly linked to checking boxes rather than actually learning. I ask these students to let me know what about their work they’re unsure of, but they can’t always identify specifics in the moment. Building the specifics into the process of the feedback and conferencing practice is a great approach. I think I will give it a shot!

  2. @bblack,

    This is one of the best Cohort21 blogs I have ever read. Well done! Seriously. The encouraging tone of your writing, the personal stories, concrete strategies, all make for wonderful education takeaways. I think a PUBLISHING WEEK is an absolutely brilliant idea and one that should be mandatory for ALL educators.

    At SiTE School we talk about priorities rather than “due dates”. We have community priorities which are non-negotiable. These are “due-dates” within our community partnerships and learning spaces (Museum Exhibitions, Winter Market, Gallery Curation, Field Trips, Expert Talks) that are non-negotiable. In other words, this is the real-life portion of school, the unchangeable, adult context, where adolescents must be response-able.

    Because our course calendar at SiTE School is based on a thematic integrated approach, our other “due-dates” are far more flexible. The next priority is group work, in which others are depending on you to complete a certain role. Finally, their are the independent projects, which are inherently flexible within a parameter of guide/student negotiation. Just like you, I am more interested in a student communicating with me as to why they deserve more time to complete something (perhaps research has taken them in a different direction, perhaps their passions and interests have changed) then I am with an arbitrary deadline.

    Keep up the awesome work of modelling true change in the classroom. These are ideas worth spreading.

    Eric

    • Thanks, @edaigle! Love the language of priorities and non-negotiables. I think this framing would help students see the connection between classroom and real life. Most work places don’t have ‘due dates’ but almost all have non-negotiables. I’d be interested in picking your brain about more about SiTE school!

  3. 100% stealing two things from this:
    – Publishing
    – Priorities

    Thank you for sharing these ideas, Brandon and Eric. It’s amazing how sometimes just reframing with the right vocabulary can make a difference.

    I’d love to chat about feedback at our next Face2Face. Using SE2R has really helped me refine what feedback I am giving a student and how I want them to act upon it. In the past, I don’t think I was very clear about my revision expectations. But I still struggle with the feedback / revision spectrum. How much is too much? What’s the positive reinforcement for following feedback? Is a better product enough?

    • @echellew, when I was in my first year of teaching, a senior teacher encouraged us to ‘beg, borrow, and steal’, so steal away! I’d be happy to chat about feedback as I’ve been playing around with feedback during the writing process rather than after. Also, I’ve heard about the SE2R method but have never used it, so I’d be interested to hear more about your thoughts.

  4. @bblack
    I love your HMW question “How might we shift student thinking from marks to skills through meaningful assessment and individualized, timely feedback.”
    given your post and really innovative approach to addressing it it could also be rephrased as

    “HMW re-imagine assessment and feedback (in the english classroom) in order to maximize student engagement, wellness and ownership.

    It’s these small tweaks, re-thinks, and experiments that can yield the most interesting insights. By loosening the reins and opening up “publishing week” it has taken the temperature down 10X and those students who see the huge opportunity will really benefit. I think this type of assessment & feedback strategy will yield the most results the 2nd and 3rd time you run it. Each round the students will talk and share. Definitely build in a debrief post “drop-dead” date so allow students vocalize how this felt differently from every other time they had to submit written work in the past. This will serve the culture you are trying to shift.

    Looping in your team – @tfaucher @ashaikh @ahughes @wdarby

    • @jmedved
      Thanks for the rephrased HMW question; it captures precisely how I can accomplish my end goal by considering the process rather than the destination first! At the end of the day, we can’t change student’s minds for them; however, we can change our approach to assessment and feedback. Having student engagement, wellness, and ownership in mind throughout this process will then allow them the opportunity to make this shift in mindset on their own terms. Thanks, Justin!

  5. Brandon – I echo the encouragement of all of our Cohort colleagues – your blog is well-written and thoughtful. Perhaps things are ‘easier’ in Grade 5 where we have just started our narrative project and I’m having to hold students back from writing as much as they like for as long as they like. In their little Grade 5 world, due dates/drop-dead dates don’t loom so large. Because my students aren’t as independent as yours or snowed under in all their classes, they are able to enjoy the process more. This is why I tip my hat to my high school teaching colleagues – I don’t know how you do it!

  6. @bblack
    Brandon,
    Amazing, engaging blog post- all the things have been said- Bravo!
    “Publishing week” is an incredible idea. It takes away pressure, it gives them room and your students know they have a safety net. We need to be the place that if and when student flop we can be there and say, it’s ok, I’ve got you. Hard deadlines are us telling our students, “Ok, the learning of this is done. Times up!” And this is just not how life is. If we want out students to be life-long learners than we have to set them up to carry their learning on a bit longer if they need it. The truth is, if I want to learn something new, I often have as much time as I want, a whole lifetime to learn it. We want our students to know what that can be like and how good it feels to know that someone has their back if they need it.

    The tight and timely feedback loop that you are working to create is the cornerstone to this system working. If you just give more time, but do add to their clarity around quality or how to refine the skills the extra time has little impact.

    Well done Brandon! Looking forward to hearing more about this on Friday!

    Tracy

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