"Order the Concrete": Authentic Deadlines Teach Responsibility

The construction industry has deadlines that almost always relate to completing one part of a project so the next can begin. For example, when a concrete truck is ordered for a specific delivery date, the forms and steel work must be in place.

Ordering the concrete is like teachers scheduling presentations or exhibitions. If a student doesn't have their product, they better be amazing talkers and know their stuff because the people are coming – ready or not.

Since most of the major professional deadlines are project based, I let my students use their final projects on their last set of essay quizzes. All but two kids completed the project by the deadline, which is a vast improvement since earlier in the year. Specifically, it's 99.98 percent success.

But that's not the story from some of the classrooms on my campus. Teachers often ask how to motivate students if we can't take points off for late work or give them a zero. Here's what I think about it.

1. Reconsider Point Penalties

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we should hold students to point penalties or loss of opportunity as the go-to consequences. Is a loss of points the best we can do? Does it even work?

I realize that kids need to prove themselves before they can miss a deadline here and there, but let's move beyond tying the consequence to grades. It makes it harder for them to recover, which can give them plenty of reason to give up.

A common counter argument is that it's just like financial penalties. No it's not. Comparing learning and earning is like comparing religion and science – the more you understand the two, the less the comparison makes sense.

Making completion meaningful in a timely way by relating it to other products in the learning process is a great place to start. Just remember to order the concrete.   

2. Stop Deflating Grades

Inflation occurs when teachers give extra credit points. The opposite occurs when points are taken off for turning papers in late. Neither of these practices lead to accurate grade reporting.

The problem with taking off points for any reason is that it deflates the summary grade, which makes it inaccurate – defeating the purpose of reporting grades. For more on this issue, check out Ken O'Connor's work (Twitter @kenoc7). 

Many teachers reject this logic and insist that it's to teach the kids a lesson. The problem is in the frequency of repeat offenders. The same kids who turn in late work continue to do so after receiving penalties.

That's why we need to design learning activities and work flow with built-in authentic deadlines. 

3. "We need to teach responsibility!"

If teachers are to "teach kids a lesson" by imposing punitive deadlines, where is this situation replicated in our professional and daily lives? Even penalties on late payments are a few days after the deadline.

After all, do teachers not turn things in late, too?

As Rick Wormeli puts it, "Teachers turn things in late all the time." I realize that they don't like hearing that, but ask any administrator and then tell me otherwise.

Kids watch us and learn. They see that we are organized and timely and strive to do the same, provided we've built healthy relationships with our students. Maybe you don't see it the year they're with you, but it may surface in their professional life. 

4. Students Need to Make Resources 

Instead of completing notes or worksheets, my students do small projects that that often leave them with a resource. It could be a Quizlet deck, interactive map, or a timeline, for example.

Letting students use their products to complete assessments takes away the question, "How many points is this worth?" They are also more likely to work hard on it because of how useful it will be. No grade will motivate students in the same way.

Deadlines are important, so they should be part of the learning activity design like common examples in the professional world. Don't hesitate to "order the concrete."