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Friday, November 15, 2013

Who Needs Due Dates?

Due dates are part of what we do as teachers, right? Projects and assignments have a beginning and, a few weeks later, an end. This is the same for every student, every project, every year. We, as teachers, accept this set up because it’s how things have always been. But are due dates really the best way to do things? My answer to this question is a big, loud NO. Every approach to instruction has pros and cons. Here are what I feel are the pros and cons of having due dates in the high school art room.

One plus of due dates is that they keep everyone on the same page. With due dates students work through the material more or less at the same pace. The teacher provides instruction and demonstrations that fit what everyone is doing. Students are able to use similar materials, if that’s your thing. But what about students who finish early or those slow starters who lag behind?

A big down side to due dates is that they don’t allow for differences in pace. We all work at different paces and this is especially true for classes where there is a vast difference in ability and prior knowledge - like Art One. Some students are familiar with the media or the process of an activity and get done quickly, while others need some trial and error time. If students who need more time have a due date to worry about they are less likely to practice or learn from mistakes and more likely to turn in something they are unhappy with. In this situation they know the work isn’t great, you know it isn’t great and so does the rest of the class. No wonder such high numbers of students never progress on to advanced arts classes. Students should have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. This is especially key if you want your students to take risks or experiment - skills that are kind of important for high level, creative thinking. Looming due dates take the focus off of learning and put it on getting work done.

Another thing that we like about due dates is control. With due dates the teacher controls what students are doing and learning. We worry that if we let go of this control that chaos will ensue. Also, it’s a common opinion that students, especially Art One students, need the pressure of due dates to get work done. We feel that we need the extrinsic motivation of getting work in on time to keep students focused on working.

Due dates reinforce extrinsic motivation. Getting rid of due dates fosters intrinsic motivation - students making decisions about what to do next based on what they need to learn or what they think will work best, not on meeting a deadline. I want my students to work because they care about what they’re doing, because they love art, because they have something to say, not because they only have a day left until the project is due. Sure, wanting each and every kid to do this is a lot to ask for but if I don’t give them the opportunity how will I ever know what the are capable of?

In summary, due dates have some benefit: they keep everyone on the same page and make it easier to organize supplies. They also feel comfortable because they are a familiar way to teach and they give most of the control over what happens during class to the teacher. But the costs of due dates can be high - they put the focus on meeting deadlines instead of creative thinking and pressure kids to move on before they’ve mastered skills. They also shut down intrinsic motivation.

What are your thoughts about due dates?
See in the comment section here what my students think about due dates.

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