Traditional teaching practice in regards to project due dates is as follows:
1) Set the assignment due date.
2) Have students hand in their assignments on this date.
3) Evaluate the assignments, put a mark on the front, and hand back.
4)Record marks in the mark book, giving penalties or zeroes to those that aren’t in on time.
5) Repeat the process for another project.
From a student perspective it seems to go as follows. Write the assignment due date in my agenda.
1) Start working on it two to three days ahead of time (or, perhaps, the night before… often just when Mom or Dad see it in my agenda and remind me!)
2) Get it done and hand it in.
3) Forget about it until it comes back.
4) Look at the mark and either show it to Mom and Dad, file it away, or throw it out.
Most teachers, parents, and students wouldn’t see a problem with this. But I see a problem. Where does the student, in this process, get an opportunity to improve? Where do they get not just teacher help and explanation, but teacher feedback about their work? When does this work get shared in the community? In short, what is the point?
If this was a sporting context it would be like being assigned ‘stick-handling’, to be completed at home and shown to the coach in one week. The coach would then give a Level 1, 2, 3, or 4 on the performance and we would then forget about stick-handling until the next year.
I have found that implementing the alternative system, within the somewhat traditional school that I work, is messy but well worth the work. In my case I:
1) Set the assignment. This usually includes a conversation of who the final audience will be (right now my students are working on our 8th annual ‘What Matters’ Conference that brings in an ever-increasing number of community members and a baseline eco-study for a national museum property).
2) Give multiple due dates (a final and interim). This is where it gets messy. There is only one ‘final’ due date – the date at which the projects are shared with the Museum or the community. The other due dates are dates for feedback and somewhat ‘optional’. But, as I tell the students – if the final date is the first time the work is shared aren’t we setting ourselves up for sub-par work that is lacking the feedback of others, or, worse yet, outright failure? Students are constantly asking “when is it due” and for most of them the answer is “as soon as possible so we can discuss it and help you improve”.
3) Students come in to see me early in the morning, at lunch, etc. to receive more feedback.
4) We publish or share the work publicly. It never has a Level 1 – 4 on the front – rather, students inherently know how well they’ve done by the reaction of the community they share it with. Frankly, for many students, ‘how well they do’ in this system is not really a consideration. Rather, the focus has moved from ‘getting the points’ to actually learning – and isn’t that what school is supposed to be about?