Teaching Responsibility

I’ve been using standards-based grading in my courses for several semesters and run into a recurring issue regarding student responsibility. While many SBGers use weekly quizzes to determine student proficiency, I’ve opted to have students demonstrate proficiency via projects/papers (some given by me, some student generated). Importantly, I have no due dates for these assignments as I want students to decide when they are ready. I do give some suggested due dates, but I do not enforce them. Again, I want students to make the decision as to when they are ready to meet standards. I believe the ability to accurately self-assess will aid these future teachers’ ability to assess their students.

Semester after semester a recurring theme in my course evaluations is that students want due dates (what this means about the sorry state of education is for a different time). This last semester I was very upfront with students about the “due date” issue & said, “If you need due dates, here are some suggestions, but you need to hold yourself to them.” As expected, students procrastinated, & I again received these same comments on course evaluations.

I am beginning to wonder if I am allowing students’ procrastination to interfere with their learning. My point with having flexible due dates is so students can spend more time on assignments, but I am unconvinced that students are actually spending more time. Thoughts?

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23 Responses to Teaching Responsibility

  1. Just thinking out loud here about my own habits: For me, the stuff on my to do list without a due date…doesn’t get done. The stuff with a due date, does. Even if it’s a placebo date, one I just make up to give myself an end-goal.

    Perhaps I’m a product of a system that never taught me how to “be responsible” or perhaps that’s one version of what responsible looks like.

    So maybe on their “project planning sheets” — assuming you/they use something like that — you have them set a deadline (themselves) but there’s no penalty for not meeting it. It’s just there to structure their time.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Russ, what you describe you do is what I want the students to do. I have a feeling they just aren’t yet holding themselves to their self created deadlines. Perhaps scaffolding parts of the project will help them see that last minute work isn’t going to cut it.

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  2. Caitlin says:

    I think having no due dates is an awesome thing. It puts the responsibility on the student and allows room for reflection and decision-making. Some students simply cannot step out of the box and think of this somehow as “harder” for them. I think when it comes down to it, students who really want to learn will appreciate your methods, even if they do not fully agree–if that makes sense.

    I really think this method puts a demand on students that they can either adapt to or work against. Our world is a place where people always need everything EXACT and learning is such an open process! Your class supports that! Stay encouraged! Keep doing it your way!

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks, Caitlin. Of course there are always those who “get it”. I’m not worried about them (you). I just want to be sure the “fighting against” doesn’t prevent engaging with the ideas. I’m not sure that enforcing due dates would prevent that. Instead, I think those who don’t want to engage are likely using the lack of due date as an excuse. Hmmm.

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  3. Susan Berrend says:

    I have played with the due date question for the last few years. It seems to make no difference how far ahead a project is presented as students overwhelmingly produce the product at the last possible minute, even failing to complete work for underestimating the time needed. I have asked them why they choose to work from emergency to emergency when planning and time provided would prevent this..as yet, no good answer…but I see them being members of a culture where, with the internet’s help, all work is seen as being doable quickly, with little regard for deep thought or quality.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Our culture has certainly grown more “immediate”. However, I don’t know that I am much different than our students as I also tend to procrastinate (similarly to Russ). So the question becomes, “how do I get myself to be a better planner?” I’ve already started working on that (with three kids 3 & under, I have to), but how can I help my students become better planners?

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  4. CristinaM. says:

    Human beings are known for their instinct to preserve energy so your students are no exception.
    I think that you should ask them to set due dates, discuss possible drawbacks/obstacles and review (together) the progress from time to time. I do that with my elementary students and create learning continuums where they place themselves and reflect.

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  5. It’s really no different with my middle school students. I tried scaffolding parts of the project, with their own “due dates,” and that helps a bit. But there will still be students and teams who wait until the last minute. Some just don’t get into what we’re learning, which makes sense for middle school kids but NOT for preservice teachers.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      I think that’s why it bothers me too. However, I have to remind myself that we are all learners.

      A colleague of mine has the idea that teachers should teach for a year, then go through preservice education. Would make it a lot more real & relevant, but hard to rationalize that one year of teaching with no training. Oh wait, TFA does it! Ha.

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  6. cgoedde says:

    Have you thought about making this its own standard? E.g. “I can set and keep a schedule for my assessments/learning.” That seems like it might straddle the line between your ideal situation where the students are completely self-starting and the other end where you have to set and police all the deadlines.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      That’s a nice idea & have something similar, but if they don’t meet that standard, I still have the issue of their procrastination affecting their learning.

      So far, I’m leaning toward using in class work/collab time to provide impetus to make progress. Then final turn in will still be on the students.

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  7. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    I’ve run into similar problems in my SBG courses. One thing I’ve done that worked ok, and fit pretty well into my teaching philosophy, is to set a 2 week deadline for a first assessment of a standard after it “becomes active,” which just means that we’ve talked about that content in class. I say “first assessment” because they average around 3 per standard over the course of a semester. At first I felt I was just caving to their desire for deadlines (as you’ve discussed), but I realized that it allowed for some cyclic teaching/learning since after 2 weeks I could spend some class time talking about common problems the students were having.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      I like it. Gives them some freedom, but sets limits. This seems to be a better scaffold as it still has “teeth”.

      Unrelated, you teach physics, right? Any chance you have a set of standards you use for non majors physics/physical science?

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      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        i haven’t had a chance to do SBG for a non-majors class yet, unfortunately. I have lots of HS physics teacher friends who do it, though, is that close enough?

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        • jerridkruse says:

          Maybe. It is for elementary education majors, so I am going to try to tailor the course to their needs. Anyone in particular you’re thinking of. I am thinking Shawn Cornally or Frank Noschese.

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  8. Not sure if you’ve tried this, but could you make one assignment due a week or so into class: “Look at the assignments list for this course as well as my suggested due dates. Your task is to write down when you will turn in each of these assignments.”

    In essence, you’re scaffolding the soft skill your students appear to be lacking (as illustrated via your previous course data collection) with the intention of helping them move beyond procrastination while still standing firm with your belief that adults should set their own deadlines.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      Thought of something like that, but then I either have to enforce various deadlines, or the scaffold doesn’t really have any “teeth”. Also, they wouldn’t know when they will be ready until we’ve embarked on the journey.

      Thanks for the ideas. Still wrestling with this one.

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  10. Hugh Clench says:

    Speaking as a psychologist, you’re up against human nature here. While your intention is laudable your students won’t learn to be more disciplined just because one teacher has given them some flexibility. Some will be inherently better at this than others, but others will be lifetime procrastinators. The worst thing is for you to be unclear about your expectations. Matt’s suggestion is a possible way forward but you need to make it clear that once a student has set the date it’s no longer negotiable. Of course this might lead to allegations of unfairness as dates will vary amongst individuals, so you may have a rocky road!

    Maybe negotiating the date with the whole group, not individuals, would be a better first step.

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  11. Harry says:

    I appreciate you putting the onus on students. They do need to learn responsibility.

    A thought – is it possible that students just need some guidance? After all, you can’t just give someone a javelin and tell them to throw it 100 yards like in the Olympics. Maybe a bad example – but my point is that maybe they just don’t know how and just need instruction.

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    • I agree with your thought process, Harry. We all need a bit of scaffolding from time to time (Thanks Vygotsky).

      The students don’t seem to “get it,” so a next step might be to assume additional instruction is needed.

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  12. Hi! EDM 310 student again. I heart due dates. I’m a list maker and if I add something to my list that is due soon, I am way more likely to do it right then than to wait until right before it’s due at the end of a semester. I think due dates throughout the year are a good way to keep track of whether or not your students are actually learning-almost like an educational checkpoint. I think they can do nothing but enhance the learning environment. No one can avoid deadlines forever.

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