People hold a range of opinions on how to respond to late work. Some people say we should not accept late work at all, others say we should accept it and attach a consequence and finally, others believe that we should accept late work without consequence at all.
I believe we should accept late work from students without applying any consequence.
First, every task or challenge that we pose for our students is an important learning opportunity. If we believe in the value of our students completing these tasks, we should engage in practices that motivate them to complete the work. We should avoid providing students a reason or motivation not to complete the work. Assigning a '0' or deducting marks for late work provides students just that...the motivation for not completing the work.
As teachers, how do we know the length of time it will take each individual student to learn something new? We establish arbitrary timelines all the time, but how do we know if these timelines suit the pace of learning of our students? Establishing timelines is necessary so that students have a guideline, but the timelines that we create must be flexible enough to meet the needs of all of our learners. Surely we aren't going to demand that every student learn at the same pace as everyone else?
We know that people learn in different ways and at different rates. Despite this, the factory model of schooling favors kids who 'get it' first or 'get it' right away. In a rush to cover the curriculum, we often present material to our students and shortly afterwards, follow it up with a test. Students who learn quickly perform well while those who don't learn quickly enough perform poorly. If we don't use these results to inform our practice and improve student learning then the test simply becomes another piece of summative assessment data that is used to generate a numerical mark or letter grade. Unfortunately, this type of practice leads to major gaps in student learning, especially for those students who require more repetition and reinforcement.
As teachers, we help our students set reasonable expectations for themselves based on the progression of their learning. So, following this same line of thinking, shouldn't we have different standards for late work for people who have already mastered a skill compared to people who are still learning a skill? Should we be holding students, who aren't yet proficient or are still learning something to the same standard as people who are already proficient?
In the professional world, it is allowable and understandable to hold professionals to adult level competencies. Adults possess greater maturity and are better able to establish earlier deadlines for themselves so that they ensure they will have their work completed on time. This maturity comes from having made mistakes in the past. On the other hand, when professionals are attempting to learn a new skill or develop a new idea, they are often afforded a considerable amount of flexibility when it comes to timelines. The reason for this is quite simple, learning takes time and in order for deep learning to occur it cannot be rushed.
Many teachers say that they are preparing students for the 'real world' by not accepting late work or by deducting marks for late work. The reality is that in the real world, one is allowed to be late more often than not. Meetings, appointments, deliveries and flights all suffer from delays. In the real world, we accept delays and do our best to understand these situations. Whether we did not know how to complete some work, ran short of time or simply forgot, we have all been in the position where we have missed a deadline. In these situations, we are still forced to get the work done in addition to the current work we are responsible for. Did we lose our job? No. Did we lose pay? No. But, we did learn to prepare so that we can avoid similar situations in the future.