Loose Deadlines and Procrastination

I implemented a policy a couple of years ago that has caused colleagues to raise eyebrows at a number of institutions and in a number of departments. I believe this policy is a good one in a perfect world, but I would like to get some opinions from readers here.

The policy concerns deadlines. In all of my classes, students write essays of one type or another, but I’ll focus on ENG 101, of freshman composition. In here, students write three medium-length essays that make up most of their grade for the semester. These essays have due dates. The kicker is that I don’t enforce these deadlines; they are loose deadlines. Let me explain.

I have the deadlines because some people seem to work better with a deadline in mind. The deadlines also mark the end of one paper and the beginning of another for the purposes of in-class activities. I don’t enforce the deadlines, though, because I view writing as an individual task that is easier for some students than others. Put simply, I’d rather get an awesome paper late than a mediocre paper on time. All papers must be in by the last class day, though, so I can grade them.

The problem is, I don’t live in a perfect world. Despite my constant urging, some students use this policy to procrastinate. Some students even fail because they never turn anything in. Others come too close to failing because they do exactly what I want to avoid–they procrastinate and then rush to produce mediocre, or even bad, essays. Every semester, it seems, I consider making a more rigid deadline policy. But every semester, I also get those 10 or 12 students who are grateful for the time to find that extra source, or to go one more time to the writing center, or because they got sick at an inconvenient time.

For me, pedagogically, the policy makes sense. I believe students need to be responsible for their own education. I don’t believe in somewhat arbitrary grade penalties. But, it’d be nice not to have to fail otherwise good students because they had an excuse to procrastinate. I’d love to hear what some of you have to say.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver.]

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