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  • Writer's pictureMIND MATTERS

6 Strategies for Dealing with Late Assignments

Homework submission is more a behavioral issue than an academic one and should be treated as such. We as educators risk invalidating the purpose of students’ grades by using them as a tool to affect student behavior. Here are 6 alternative strategies that can be implemented to discourage submissions of late assignments.

In my previous post Should we penalize students for late or incomplete assignments, we discussed the use of punitive grading as a deterrent for late or incomplete assignment submissions and assessed its effectiveness at teaching accountability and responsibility. In that post, I argued that homework submission is more a behavioral issue than an academic one and should be treated as such. We as educators risk invalidating the purpose of students’ grades by using them as a tool to affect student behavior.

If you are reading this with a furrowed brow wondering how you could possibly reduce or eliminate the submission of late work without grading penalties I have 6 strategies just for you:

1. Stop giving students take-home assignments

Students can easily acquire the answer to almost any assignment we give them without exhibiting any personal knowledge or skill, whether that involves typing the question into a search engine and copying the answer word for word, by having a parent or older family member assist or (more often than we think) by depending on the academic prowess of their peers.

Whenever we attach a grade to any assignment it immediately becomes high-stakes and the likelihood of students copying the answers from outside sources, rather than spending time trying to understand the content increases. It is also a little-known fact that students are more likely to cheat if they fear the loss of reputation or ranking (Rick & Loewenstein, 2008). In such cases, some students’ grades are often inflated and more likely to reflect the extent to which they can persuade their bright and generous friend to allow them to copy the answers rather than their ability to solve those quadratic equations.

Instead of assigning students take-home assignments, it may be more meaningful to allow them to complete assignments in class and use quizzes to measure students' learning outcomes. This provides a more accurate representation of your student's ability and understanding. This strategy reduces inflated grades due to cheating or assistance from outside sources and also deflated grades due to unstable and unsuitable home environments.

2. Home-Work Completion Work Shops: It’s like detention but fancier

Rather than applying grading penalties students who do not submit work by the due date will be required to give up some of their free time during lunch or after school to get the assignment done. It can be given a fancy name like homework support or completion workshops, but the key here is that your students are aware that they will be required to “participate” if the assignment is not submitted for whatever reason.

Using this strategy, students are made aware that opting out of an assignment is not an option and that if extra time is required it will come out of their free time during school hours since they forfeited the convenience of doing it at home by submitting late.

If you notice students were unable to complete the work because they require academic support, they can be tutored during these sessions, by yourself or another student. Furthermore, in cases where students' home environments are not conducive for schoolwork, they get to complete the work in a controlled and safe environment.

3. Use Incomplete instead of Zero

It is easier to defend a student’s grades when we do not allow non-academic variables to affect their academic standing. How do you comfortably have a conversation with a parent and explain to them that the reason why their son is failing mathematics is not due to his difficulty grasping the concept but his inability to submit his work on time?

Assigning an “Incomplete” instead of zero or a reduced score eliminates these uncomfortable conversations and maintains the legitimacy of your academic records.

Without a numerical value, an incomplete assignment will not risk dropping the student's grade and as such, you can fairly discuss their academic performance based on their work ethic while simultaneously communicating that in order to glean their academic ranking in a particular course all the assignments must be submitted.

4. Set a time span instead of a due date

By setting a time span such as “the week of the 20th” or, “due by next week " rather than giving students a specific date allows for flexibility and the illusion of control. Of course, you should have an absolute deadline in your head (or planner) after which you can implement some of the other strategies discussed here.

When students are given a time span this affords you the opportunity to mark the early submissions ( which cuts down on your workload) but more importantly, gives students who are struggling the time and opportunity to ask for assistance.

There is a disadvantage to this strategy though...procrastinators!

5. Use accountability forms

Accountability forms can be used when students miss a deadline. Have them fill out a form on which they will state the reasons for not submitting and also allows them to give a reasonable date by which the submission will be made.

On this form, you should provide a list of interventions that are available at your school such as homework completion workshops, peer tutoring, counseling, etc., and have the student select the intervention they deem appropriate if they do not submit by the date they have provided. That way students are made responsible for what happens next. What is most important is that zero or grade deductions are not provided as options. You may be surprised by the number of students who select those options instead of having to get the work done in a timely fashion.

With accountability forms, you can track patterns and repeat offenders and determine whether or not more severe measures need to be taken with certain students. An editable accountability form can be found in our free resource library, sign up to our mailing list to gain access.

6. Use in-school suspensions

If all else fails and a student consistently submits work late, or a student has a certain number of accountability forms on their file, it may be necessary to get parents or the school’s administration involved. An in-house/ in-school suspension may be necessary.

During school suspensions, students are usually kept separated from their peers but are kept occupied with assignments and quizzes from their different courses. This strategy is more useful than the traditional out-of-school suspension as it teaches students that there are consequences for repeatedly breaking the rules and simultaneously helps to improve their academic standing by having them catch up on all outstanding schoolwork.

Whatever strategy you choose it is imperative that students are aware that you are an advocate and not an adversary. As teachers, we need to support our students and help them feel safe in their learning environment. Implementing some of these strategies may actually eliminate some of the negative confrontations that we have with our students with respect to assignment and homework submissions. We teach students accountability while offering them support and still maintain the integrity of our grades.

What strategies do you use in your classroom? Do you implement any of these already? Drop us a line in the comments.


Guskey, T.R. & Bailey J.M (2001) Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin Press

Guskey, T.R & Bailey, J.M (2010)

Developing Standards-Based Report Cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Myron Dueck (2014): Grade Smarter Not Harder ASCD Publications

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