I don’t like papers coming to me at all different times; it throws off my sense of organization and flow. That was my real rationale for myself for having point deductions on late work, as illustrated by the following policies as they pertained to major assignments and weekly, low-stakes writing exercises designed to build student writing skills outside of the pressures of a major paper. My former late policies:
LATE WORK – MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS
You will get a seven-day grace period for the first four major assignments for our course at a 5% reduction per day. So if an assignment is due on Sunday at 11:59 p.m., and you turn it in on Wednesday at 11:58 p.m., it will be treated as three days late, and you would lose 15%. Late assignments will be accepted up to seven days after they are due. I will not provide feedback on an assignment on the day it is due.
LATE WORK – SMALLER ASSIGNMENTS
Smaller assignments will usually be due at the beginning of class or through Blackboard. Since I give a lot of them and they count for a small portion of your course grade, I do not accept those late. If you will be absent on a day such an assignment is due, you need to email me (a screenshot will suffice) or give your assignment to a classmate to give to me before our class session begins. If you are absent for an unannounced writing exercise, there are no make-ups without official documentation. I will determine what constitutes such documentation.
In my six years at my university, populated mostly by “traditional” college-age students, I became known as a stickler for deadlines. I found setting those boundaries mostly helped my serenity, outside of the occasional student complaint about not being able to get points for doing the assignment, even if it was several days or weeks late.
However, I had the experience of changing jobs during COVID. In the Fall of 2020, I was fortunate to start a new position at a school that was much more aligned with my inclination toward teaching as a high priority. My new home served residents of low-income neighborhoods, as well as a sizable population of International students, so in addition to teaching virtually, I was faced with a demographic with whom I had not worked in several years.
I started out with the same policy on late work, but I learned quickly this wouldn’t fly. COVID brought a new heap of responsibilities upon students, such as having to take care of parents, siblings, children, etc. Many were also facing anxiety during COVID, particularly with having to adjust to a virtual environment. I found myself just accepting weekly exercises and major assignments whenever students were able to submit them, right up until the end of the semester, usually at full credit.
During the Spring of 2021, I revised my “late work policy” to include the following:
Assignments should be submitted on time. Assignments submitted late may receive a lateness penalty or not be accepted at all. I’ve revised my policy to allow for “life circumstances” for students. I feel by saying assignments “may receive…” such a penalty or not be accepted instead of “will receive…” students may feel comfortable asking for extensions they might actually need due to genuine problems they might face outside of school. I also make a practice of reaching out to students who are regularly missing work, inviting them to contact me. I always close with the statement Please let me know what I can do to help you. I’ve found quite a few students will take me up on that offer, and I learn about student misunderstandings.
Some students will submit work late without communicating beforehand. If that is the case, I’ll accept it with a light point deduction (five to ten points out of 100) and an explanation for the deduction. From there, I’ll invite those students to converse with me about any problems they’re facing that could be inhibiting their completion of work.
If a student asks me if they can submit something late, I say yes, without exception. This unofficial policy may also meet the students who may have disabilities that have not been documented by the Accessibility and Resource Center at my university.
I generally find that despite my newfound leniency, the majority of students are diligent about submitting their work in a timely manner. Some do struggle with deadlines, but I find they’re comfortable about giving me their reasons for their struggles. Overall, I found the end-of-semester “flood” I feared was minimal, and students who submitted work late were able to learn how to write more effectively, which is the underlying goal of what we do in Writing Studies. I’ve remembered this goal more clearly since enacting this policy.
Craig Wynne, University of the District of Columbia.
Craig Wynne is an Associate Professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia. His research interests include composition pedagogy, critical discourse analysis, the psychology of writing, and Singles Studies. He has published articles in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Journal of American Culture, Revista Feminismos, Dialogue: Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, and Spark: A 4C4 Equality Journal. His work has also been featured in Psychology Today and Writer’s Digest. His book, How to be a Happy Bachelor, was released in 2020.