Keep in mind that I mostly teach writing. Even when a course is not specifically a writing course, almost all of my assignments are writing assignments, and that shapes my policies in general. In terms of late work, I try to keep things clear and simple. I will take any essay up to a week late without a grade penalty, but I will not offer any comments on that essay at all. Since I usually offer students the chance to revise all of their major assignments (except at the end of the semester), the lack of comments puts them at a significant disadvantage. I always offer to meet with students in my office, but there is a pretty big difference between having a concrete set of specific comments on a draft and a series of notes taken during a office visit.
Highberg says he developed this policy because “policies need to align with pedagogies,” and I think that’s right. He explains:
In other words, the policies we create in our classes should clearly support our teaching goals. As a writing specialist, I want my students to recognize that they are writers who make choices. They must decide where to put commas, how to frame a piece of evidence, or what font will provide them with a particular ethos. I feel like my late policy aligns with what I’ve come to call “choice pedagogy” because it gives students an option without forcing them down a particular path. They must recognize, however, that their choice comes with consequences. In this case, those consequences directly affect their writing because the lack of comments will make revision choices more difficult. Some readers may argue that grade penalties still allow students to make choices, but I feel like the goal of a penalty is to push students to turn in their work on time. I feel like my version shifts the emphasis from the grade and to the writing, which is where I want their focus to reside.
I used to have a policy something like this in my upper-division classes, only I permitted students to submit the two major essays as late as exam week. (These are classes in which they write 1-2 pg. weekly essays to ensure that they’re prepared for discussion, and I insist those are due on the dates specified.) So long as the students did the reading and writing required of each essay assignment, it didn’t matter to me when the work was submitted, although students who submitted late essays (a la Highberg) forfeited the right to timely feedback on their work. Most students (probably 85-90%) saw the wisdom of writing papers based on readings they had just completed over the past several weeks, rather than waiting until December or May. But, three years ago, one student handed in essays that I suspected she had “recycled” from another student in the class, but because I hadn’t photocopied every graded student essay, I had no proof. So, I went back to traditional deadlines, accepting late papers but subtracting one letter grade each day the paper is late.
Now my university has an in-house electronic plagiarism detector system, so I’m tempted to take a page out of Highberg’s book. I assign only essays and take-home exams in all but my survey classes, but even in my surveys, they’re writing four short essays in addition to all-essay midterm and final exams. What do you think?