Schedule deadlines as specific tasks, not the ends of phases. Rather
than “Content will be completed by 4 April 2010,” state “Review the
content over lunch on 4 April 2010.” This ties the deadline to an event
at which results must be shown. Mini-deadlines tied to specific events
are more powerful than general statements.
up for minor time discrepancies during the course of a project is
easier than facing a big shortfall when no time is left. —Smashing Magazine
A few years ago, a student of mine wrote a blog entry that mentioned (among other things) the difference between deadlines for students and deadlines in the real world. (See “Things I wish I knew before taking an internship off-campus.”) Students who fall behind one week can usually catch up the next week. Consequences, such as low grades on quizzes or missed opportunities to revise, fall pretty much squarely on the student (though teachers do feel stress when students miss deadlines, either because the teachers have to find time to help the student catch up, or the teachers have to bear the psychological stress of being the meanie who says “no”).
Working important milestones into a timeline — such as thesis proposals, bibliography lists, drafts, and revisions — is an important part of writing instruction. Striking a balance in weighting those assignments is not always easy. I want students who mess up early in the sequence to have ample opportunity to recover, but I also want the early assignments to be worth enough points to motivate the students who would would otherwise wait until the night before the assignment is due (when the sudden pressure can lead to panic, which might, in some cases, lead to academic dishonesty).
My concern is that when I give students the opportunity to revise components of a multi-stage assignment, at first students think of the revision assignment as punishment. Then, at a very late stage in the project, when students ask for additional revision opportunities, over and above the revision opportuntiies I’ve built into the timeline, then I’m faced with the choice between taking on extra work (by permitting every student an extra revision opportunity, in the interest of fairness), or being a Professor Meanie who sticks to the schedule.
Perhaps by rethinking the whole process, and asking everyone to write weekly milestone reflections, during which they evaluate their progress according to an ideal timeline I provide for them, I can help them to see how the phases fit together and help them prepare for the final deadline.