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Why Teachers Shouldn't take "late Marks"

Here’s an unpopular opinion: “Late Marks” for assignments in high school do not teach life skills.

I often get asked by other teachers whether or not I take late marks off for work submitted past the due date.

I don’t!

I realize this is controversial and there may be a myriad of reasons why a teacher may deduct marks for work submitted late. Such as,

  • School policy

  • District policy

  • Deadlines are written into the curriculum (Like in many IB courses, I’ve recently learned!)

And the one I hear the most is “to teach responsibility.”

The argument for this is usually that the teacher feels that a consequence for late work educates the students on the importance of meeting deadlines in real life. They’ll often use the argument that it’s better for students to learn the importance of meeting deadlines in high school so that they don’t face the hard reality of firm deadlines when they enter university or the workforce.

I totally get this point!

However, I don’t think it really does what people think it does…

Just as the above reasons may be why you choose to deduct marks, I have a lot of reasons I don’t! If you’re on the fence about using late marks as a consequence, read through and see what you think!

(Quick disclaimer before I dive in - this article is more tailored toward students who are not planning to attend post-secondary. Why? Because most students who are planning to attend college or university already understand the importance of deadlines and they are meeting them. So I don’t think “late marks” teaches them how to be successful in university).

Here we go!

It doesn’t teach curriculum!

First of all, our provincial curriculum actually doesn’t have a specific learning outcome related to deadlines. In my opinion, the point of assessment is to assess a student’s understanding of the core curriculum and if they are meeting the learning outcomes of that curriculum. Therefore, if deadlines aren’t part of that curriculum, how is removing marks assessing understanding? If a student submits an assignment that shows they understand all of the material and they have full grasp of the concepts and I deduct marks because it comes in a week or so late, I’m not assessing curriculum at this point.

Grace, flexibility, and kindness are important life skills

Second, deadlines throughout the semester are teacher imposed, and I believe they need to remain flexible. I feel it’s more important to teach grace and flexibility than it is to teach deadlines. The only deadline I have to adhere to is when my marks are due. I make sure students are aware of this deadline so they know I have deadlines to meet too and if they don’t submit work by my deadline, they may not pass the class or get the mark they could earn, and that’s out of both of our control. If a student is willing to do the work, and I have time to mark it before my deadline, I will. This teaches grace, kindness, flexibility, and understanding. Isn’t that a more important life lesson?

Relationships are key

This ties into relationship building. Relationships are everything as a teacher. If you have a student who chronically submits work late, try working on your relationship with them. The student won’t want to jeopardize their relationship with you or make your life harder, which means they will be more likely to turn work in on time. At least, this has been my experience. Allowing flexibility and grace and stressing the importance of students completing their work is usually enough for a student to try to meet deadlines!

Natural consequences trump imposed consequences

Third, I believe in natural consequences as opposed to imposed consequences. In real life, we face natural consequences and that’s how we learn. This is why I struggle with the “I’m teaching life skills by removing marks” argument. Life skills are learned through natural consequence! So what is the natural consequence of submitting work late? Well, the student falls behind, and now instead of one assignment due, they have multiple. They are running out of time, and are likely receiving lower grades than they *could* get because they don’t have time to submit their best work. And the biggest natural consequence? They worry about jeopardizing their relationship with you!

In real life, we face natural consequences when we miss a deadline.

We don’t finish our report cards on time? We face the wrath of our admin, parents, etc. but our principal doesn’t deduct $10 from our cheque for each day our marks aren’t handed in!

But these are natural consequences that teach us how to change our behaviour. Teaching life skills requires that we teach to real life.

Now I know what you’re likely thinking… “But doesn’t this mean you end up with PILES of extra marking RIGHT BEFORE REPORT CARDS?!?!?”

Yes. Yes I do. Sometimes!!! But less often than you’d think! The reasons I stated above are often enough encouragement for students to submit work either on time, or very soon after the deadline!

I know every teacher has a different approach, and there really isn’t one right way to do this! This has been the model that works for me and my students, and has enabled me to help students feel more successful in my classes.

I am constantly wanting to build students’ confidence in their academia, and working with high risk youth in my past and present has taught me that a student is more likely to “give up” or just not hand in work if they know they’ll lose marks for late work. This means they're not failing because they aren't capable of learning the material, it means they fail the class because they feel defeated. Opportunity to show their skills and comprehension continues to build their confidence in academia, and allows them to see how successful they can be. This is the most important lesson.

My motto is: “You CAN do it, and you should! Even if that means on your own timeline, instead of mine.”

Do you take late marks? Let me know in the comments below!


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