Deadlines teach responsibility, one educator suggested at a workshop I was recently conducting at Penn University. Narrative feedback and multiple opportunities to improve an activity are solid approaches to teaching and learning, the same teacher observed, but “don’t some things have to be due when they’re due?”
“Why?” I asked. “Are your students training to be neurosurgeons? Is that homework you assign going to save a life, if it’s turned in on time?”
My queries were met with a swell of skepticism. “What about learning to pay a mortgage on time?” she persisted.
“Twelve-year-olds don’t pay mortgages,” I replied.
Numerous people in the audience chimed in with similar examples and counters, until a voice of reason punctuated the discussion with this observation: “Some skills are developmental.”
Agreeing wholeheartedly, I amplified the woman’s point. Giving a student a failing grade, just because a deadline isn’t met only punishes her, I explained. It doesn’t teach responsibility.
Ongoing dialogue is needed
Rather than handing out low grades, like Christmas coal, we better serve our students by discussing the importance of completing tasks on time. One of my favorite conversations goes like this:
“I want to provide important feedback to you about your work. If you submit this part of your project at the end of the week, I’ll have feedback for you by Monday. This will help you moving forward. The responsibility is to your learning. I want your work, no matter when it’s done, but if you meet this due date, it helps us all.”
Add to this an example of a “real life” deadline, like paying a mortgage, and students begin to see why due dates are important.
Some young students take years to get this.
A decade ago, I taught 8th grade. Two years later, I taught 10th grade at our high school, and I had the good fortune of having some students a second time. I was amazed by their development in many academic skills, such as meeting deadlines and taking responsibility for assignments and projects.
It seems to me that a combination of teacher intervention, parental guidance (in some cases) and maturity turned these students into more responsible young adults.