Projects turned in late are always a struggle in teaching art. As one art teacher laments, “I have tried so many different ways of handling project due dates and find it so frustrating. I am getting fewer projects done in a year than I used to, the progress is slow and I am still not getting students completed work on time.” We’ve all been there trying to balance work quality with work completion. On one hand, we want to encourage students to challenge themselves and develop excellent craftsmanship. On the other hand, we want to teach students good time management. Teachers benefit too as it avoids the chaos of chasing students for work and an overwhelming amount of grading at the end of the term. 

Before deciding on a strategy be sure to consult your school’s policies as some have school-wide policies that you need to follow. When developing a strategy that works for you and your students, it may be helpful to review what options exist.

Penalize for Lateness
Some teacher takes a certain amount of points or percentages off every day (or every week) a project is overdue. The benefits include teaching responsibility and time management, both important life skills. One teacher who uses this policy stresses, “Done is better than perfect.” Firm deadlines prevent students from accumulating a large amount of unfinished work. Deadlines help students pace themselves.

Don’t Accept Late Work
Some teachers simply don’t accept late work. All projects and work are turned in on the due date. Beyond that, some teachers may allow students to rework, redo, or finish after that initial grade is inputted after the deadline. This assures assents are happening in a timely efficient manner but also allows the teacher flexibility. If a student isn’t satisfied with their work, the teacher has enough flexibility to allow opportunities for improvement. 

The Grace Period
Many art teachers allow some form of a grace period, a time when students can turn the work in without penalty.  For example, students may have 1 week after the class has moved on to a new project to turn in the last project for full credit. Typically, teachers then provide penalties for work turned in after the grace period. This allows for the varied work speeds of your students and allows them the flexibility to stay after or take work home to complete to their satisfaction. 

Grade Motivation
A large portion of teachers will place a zero into their grade books because zeros are real grade killers that catch students’ and parent’s attention better than an incomplete. 

Another smaller portion of teachers won’t put in a zero but use a different grade floor instead. For example, one art teacher explains, “My lowest project grade is 50% and I grade incomplete work, so they have the most accurate grades for what they have done. I accept revisions through the week before finals, but they don’t get extended time on the last project.” I too used this system because typically there is some engagement in learning despite not having work handed in. See more on the topic HERE.

Poor grades may not be only a concern between you and students. In some schools, seniors risk losing privileges and athletes may face bench time if they aren’t doing well in multiple classes. 

Reward Good Effort and Participation Separately
Some art teachers have systems that separate student effort from projects. For example, a teacher may focus more on student effort. A teacher shared, “Our class work/ participation is a higher weighted percentage than projects. If students slack off on their class work, it hurts way more than the final project grade.” Teachers may call this a variety of things, effort grade, participation, studio habits, etc. My mentor teacher awarded students two points a day. If they came in on time, worked diligently, and cleaned up they earned two points a day. If they didn’t clean up or socialize, they were docked at least a point. 

Art teacher Stephanie Beiting wrote, “I think a few things that help me feel like I get more work back on time is having them complete a daily progress portfolio- they upload a pic and answer reflection questions each day.”

In researching for this article I came up with a similar variation, where a teacher grades completion and quality separately. This concept comes from Fact Check: Are Flexible Student Deadlines at Odds With Real Life? at Edutoia. This idea promotes two grades, one for completion and one for the academic quality of the work submitted. The completion grade can be weighted very low but it cannot be changed.

No Due Date/No Penalty
A surprising amount of teachers have no penalties for late work and they may be on to something. A study published by Harvard Business School found that deadlines made people less creative, which is the opposite of what we want in art education. Art teacher Ian Sands shares, “We don’t set due dates. Since our program is student-directed, we let the students decide when the work is completed. Having said that, the expectation is that students are engaged in the process every day. If students are completing work for other classes, they are not engaged in the process and it does affect their grade.” 

Art teacher Deanna Moorer adopts a no-penalty approach with her students. “I don’t deduct late points for projects. It takes some kids longer than others and I’d rather them do a good job than rush through it.” Usually, art teachers will wrap a project up with the bulk of students finished and move the class on to the next project. Those who haven’t finished often get a zero in the grade book until they turn the work in, completing work after school, at home, or during a study. Many teachers feel this simplifies matters as they longer need to track individual student factors for extensions. As one teacher put it. “I find it a poor use of my time to parse which absences are exempt and which aren’t or to make judgments about who deserves an extension.”  

Be Aware of the End of the Term
Whatever you arrive at for a policy, another generally agreed-upon strategy is to require all late work to be in by 1 week before grades are due. This allows you a needed cushion to grade work. This also requires consideration for how to handle the last project for the quarter and where it landed in relation to the end of the term. Sometimes I simply gave an in-progress grade that weighed less than a regular project.

Different Policies for Different Classes
Some teachers apply a one-size-fits-all-all policy to all their classes. This might make good sense for middle school, for example. In high school, I often applied the same requirements across introduction classes like Art I. They tended to be heavy on freshmen and the large class sizes and multiple sections just made it best to streamline a consistent policy. But my more advanced classes were generally smaller with more dedicated art students so I had more flexible policies. 

Extension requests
I developed a plan that worked well for me and I see a small portion of teachers who have also developed similar policies. When I see a majority of students are close to completing a project, I set a stop date. At that point, we are moving on to the next topic or project in the curriculum. The class has a one-week grace time before the official deadline is set. At that point, students can turn work in OR file an extension form.  On the form they need to give feedback on why they need more time and how they plan to complete the work and supply a date they will turn the work in. As one teacher observed, “I have due dates, but I also have extension request forms. The students fill it out and I approve it, everybody’s happy.” This system makes students commit to a plan rather than simply letting the student forget the project until the end of the quarter. It holds them accountable while being flexible for those students who are slow methodical workers and allowing the student time to realize their masterpiece. 

I want to stress that there is no wrong or right policy here, just options. Every teacher will develop a system that works for them and their students. As adolescents develop their executive function skills, some flexibility needs to be developed in whatever system a teacher adopts. The above systems often can be integrated. For example, I used a grace period and extension requests plus a 50% floor. The challenge for teachers is to judge when flexibility can improve work outcomes and lessen stress. I know some of my best work has come when I have flexibility with deadlines. Students often choose more complex projects and display superior craftsmanship when they can dedicate more time to a project than what was allowed for in the curriculum. Conversely, I also know that if I set no deadline, work often languishes until the end of the quarter when there is a last-minute flurry that leaves me with a lot of grading at the end of a term. In time you will find your “sweet spot” between structure and flexibility.