Thursday, October 15, 2009


I stole my extension policy from one of my graduate school mentors. My policy is this: on any paper, at any time, the student may ask for and receive a week's extension, no excuses required. The only provisos I have are two: first, the student must ask at least three days in advance. Second, she forfeits her right to a timely return.

I like this policy because it puts the burden of time management on the student. If a student finds herself in the position of asking for an extension repeatedly, this is good evidence for both of us that she is having problems with time management. On the other hand, for the student who manages her time well, it allows her to ask for an extension in cases where it makes sense (e.g. she has two other papers due that day) without making her feel as though she is asking for special treatment or that she is implying that my class has less priority.

It also cuts down on having to hear excuses. Finally, the quality of the papers that are turned in late are rarely better than the ones that are turned in on time - i.e., if there is an advantage to taking the extension I can assure you that it is not one that shows up in the grading. Well, not exactly, I do receive fewer papers that have one page of substance and four pages of filler. So, for those who take the extension, their papers might be better than they otherwise might have been. But those papers are rarely if ever better than the papers represented in the batch turned in on the due date.

The disadvantage is that the student has less time to respond to comments than she would have had, had she turned the paper in when it was due.

Any thoughts? Is this policy fair? Wise? What extension policies do you use?


  1. I teach intro philosophy to Grade 12 students - admittedly a different experience than everyone else here.

    My policy:
    If a paper is on time I will make copious comments. The student has the option of editing and resubmitting within a week.

    If a paper is late I will not take off marks, but it goes to the bottom of the pile, and returned with a simple letter grade and no comments.

  2. I am not a fan of extension policies in general. The reason for this is that I think it is setting up unrealistic expectations about the consequences of not doing assigned work when due when one is employed in business. There is a cost/penalty when one does not do what was expected in the business world and it is not too soon to treat students this lesson and treat them as if they are 'employed' by the teacher. That is not to say that there might not be a legitimate reason that arises in the normal course of life that warrants an extension, but those reasons must be keep to a minimum. My policy is that I will not accept late work unless there is 3rd party verification that excuses it being late.

    To put this in perspective, the public school district that I live in has a policy that a student cannot fail for not turning in work. They have (I believe) 9 weeks into the next semester to make up any late work. Students also can redo failed assignments. I think this is sending the wrong message to students.

  3. I'm sympathetic to John's and Becko's perspectives here. On the one hand, I think giving students a chance to exercise autonomy over their own time is a good lesson. But on the other hand, I fear that unless there are significant consequences for late work (and I'm sorry to say that many students are not sufficiently learning-focused to care whether they get feedback from us), there doesn't seem to be any reason to have deadlines.

    Here's a compromise I've reached that I think honors both of these perspectives. I allow students to rewrite any paper they turn in, with a limit of two rewrites. But I grant no extensions aside from bona fide personal or family emergencies. This means students have to turn in something by the deadline, but so long as they turn in something, they can compensate for a poor assignment by rewriting it.

    Another, more radical approach, is a mastery-based 'buffet menu' course. Under that approach, students have plenty of deadlines they can meet, but none they must meet. I love teaching a course this way, though it is a bit more work An example of this can be page at my personal page:
    (click on the Moral Philosophy syllabus)

  4. I like the sound the policy, Becko, though I'm not sure why the no-excuses clause wouldn't just turn into a slew of emails three days before the paper is due. It certainly seems fair to me.

    My students unfortunately seem to forfeit their rights to timely returns when they enroll in my course, but I've been revising my extension policy recently. In the past, anyone who had the nerve to ask received one. Now I just penalize papers 1/3 of a letter-grade per day late with extensions only for circumstances bordering on Greek tragedy. I think it strikes the right balance between pressure and time management.

  5. The point about zero-tolerance deadlines as they relate to "real world" employment is interesting. I've heard many teachers give this rationale, and I don't always know what to think. If a teacher believes that being strict about this sort of thing will help their students learn, that's one thing. But if the goal is rather to give students some kind of hard-nosed life lesson, you might wonder if that's not overly paternalistic. Imagine chastising students for showing up to class in sweat pants and caps--"You can't show up to the office dressed up like that!"

  6. What's the point in grading the assignments of students if you don't put any real effort into it?

    I feel that there should be a greater emphasis on the development of skills and technique in education, especially in disciplines such as philosophy.

    What benefit does a student gain from coasting through a course with a passing letter grade? Simply being aware of the existence of Socrates or Plato, or their teachings, does not automatically assume an awareness of the skill of reason.

    If we teach philosophy simply because it is our greatest personal strength, then we have already failed. We need to teach the subject as if it were alive and pass on our passion to our students.

    A disengaged teacher who worries about deadlines and social norms will never achieve this.

    I hope for a future that rewards the intellectual power of a student, regardless of their ability to conform to a deadline.

  7. "A disengaged teacher who worries about deadlines and social norms will never achieve this.

    I hope for a future that rewards the intellectual power of a student, regardless of their ability to conform to a deadline."


    I trust you were not inferring that I am this type of teacher. You know me well enough to make that assertion. It has been my experience (over 20 years) that students perform better when held to high standards, which include deadlines. Reasoning skills and 'intellectual power' include learning how to balance the often conflicting requirements of work loads and other commitments, allocating time and other resource so that one can perform tasks in a timely and complete fashion, etc.

  8. Proofreading is a skill that I must learn to do better. The 2nd sentence of my last post should have read 'You do not know me..."

  9. @Matthew,

    Could you email me at I'd like to ask how you got into teaching Philosophy at the High School level.

  10. I used to have a similar policy as stated above, 1/3 of a letter grade for each day the paper is late. I still use that in some circumstances, but I also try to give students some leeway when life gets in the way. One of my mentors is much more flexible regarding deadlines now than in the past, because of some circumstances in their own personal life that made it very difficult to fulfill their professional obligations. I want to give students the flexibility I would like to have in their shoes. Moreover, if my grandmother dies tomorrow, I will cancel class and go to the funeral. My students should have a similar option in dire circumstances. The difficulty arises when they lie about such things, which then leads to us requiring 3rd party documentation and becoming something like a police officer. I want to avoid all of that. Now I simply take the late papers, and if they give me a good reason, I let it go one time. If the next assignment comes in late, I usually dock their grade.

  11. I think a lot of this depends on the paper in the context of the course.

    If the purpose of the assignment is to prompt the student to think more deeply about the material before class, extensions make no sense and skew the effort required to produce a good paper.

    If the paper is intended to extend thinking started in class, then extensions make sense.

    I'm not sure I agree with the school/professional world analogy. This isn't a corportation, corporate deadlines exist for a reason -- but, it has also been my experience that those deadlines are rather flexible. I know that many administrivia deadlines on campus are flexible.

    I've also found that the last-minute "I had to go out of town because X died" excuses are eliminated with the use of an electronic drop box.. as are similar excuses for missing exams.

  12. I think that what is important is that we have a policy that we are comfortable with, convey it clearly to our students, and live with the consequences. Students are fairly adaptable. But next semester I am going to give Becko's a try for the critical papers that I assign and see if it works any better then my present one regarding the quality of work.


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