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February 3, 2020

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Is It Our Job to Teach Students Responsibility in College?

I spend a lot of time each semester revising and updating my syllabus. Some say “a syllabus functions as a contract between you and your students.” So I feel it’s best to have my policies in place and make them clear for students upfront, so there’s no misunderstanding down the road once we’ve started. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty generous late work policy to help alleviate much of the stress that comes along with the unexpected emergencies that pop up during a semester, yet I truly believe that part of what I’m teaching my students is responsibility and how to properly deal with such situations. Having a strict no late work policy only teaches students that life truly does suck sometimes, and there’s not much you can do about it. My motto for students is “no one late assignment is going to kill your grade.” So suck it up, deal with your emergency, get your late assignment in, and accept the responsibility for it all and the late penalty. Move on. Emergencies don’t happen weekly.

My late policy for assignments and essays is 10% off for each day it is late, up to a week late. After 5 days it’s just a straight 50% off. After a week, the assignment or essay can not be submitted for credit. This policy does not apply to discussions or peer-review assignments, as they both require students to engage with one another, and you can’t really do that after the discussion has ended, so no late work for those. I give students several reminders about this policy and missing work. The day after the assignment is due, the assignment is given a 0, and I send a notification to students reminding them that they missed an assignment and what the late policy is. I encourage them to submit the missing work right away. Let’s go! You got this.

Generally this process and policy work out well; however, there are times when it just doesn’t. If students don’t understand or value the importance of being on time or submitting work on time, they make little effort to do so, especially if there are no consequences. If an assignment deadline is merely a suggestion, very few will submit it at that time. I gave students an option once. They could submit their essay drafts by Thursday, and if they did so, I would provide full feedback on the draft with which they could then revise the draft and submit the final draft by Mondy night. If they didn’t want that option, the final draft was just due on Sunday night. No feedback. No extra day. I got two papers submitted on Thursday, two surprisingly submitted on Friday (wasn’t an option), 10 submitted on Sunday, one submitted late on Monday, and two not submitted at all. All 15 papers submitted could have benefited from another round of revision, but only two got that opportunity.

The only way I can see to teach students responsibility is to provide clear expectations and consequences, hold them accountable for those class policies, and reward and praise them when they are being responsible. In the scenario above, the two students who took advantage of the opportunity to revise with feedback obviously did well on their final essays. Students don’t get that option anymore; it’s all built into the process, like a forced acquiescence so to speak. If drafts are submitted, feedback is provided and time to revise and edit is given. If they are not, points are deducted, minimal feedback is provided, and there is less time to revise and edit. Essay grades clearly reflect which path is chosen and hopefully, students are learning what it takes to write good essays as well as how to be responsible for their part in the learning process.

Read more from Teaching, Write6x6
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Louise
    Feb 5 2020

    This is great! Thanks for reinforcing this!

    Another way to motivate the seemingly non-committed is to publicly acknowledge why so & so or anonymous did so well. Some of us have a deep seated competitive nature that rises to earn praise. If they can’t see the praise the good ones are getting, they may never know what they are missing if they make the extra effort.

    I am pretty sure you do that anyway, but I thought it would be fun to contribute! Have a great Wednesday!

    Reply
  2. Lori Walk
    Feb 5 2020

    YES! YES! We have the responsibility and it is a matter of
    TEACHING.

    I really like your ideas. I’ve been adding assignments and feedback points to emphasize the writing process. I now assess and reward outlines, Google docs, rough drafts, and peer feedback. I’m still tweaking some things, and I’d be interested to compare specific assignments.

    I let students do rewrites if they submit early, so those that are anxious can work ahead and get feedback.

    Have a great day!

    Reply

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