Rush, Rush: Baby, Please Plan To Submit Your Work Earlier Than The Last Minute

Sorry, Paula Abdul, but I had to steal a song lyric from you.


This is the one of the first pictures that comes up when you search for ‘angry Paula Abdul”. Sorry, Lamar.

I’ve been marking the first “process awareness” written report from my first-year students. A one-page PDF that shows their reflections on their timeliness and assignment performance to date and how they think that they can improve it or maintain it. There have been lots of interesting results from this. From about 100 students, I’ve seen many reports along the lines of “I planned, I assigned time, SO WHY DIDN’T I FOLLOW THE PLAN?” or “Wow, I never realised how much I needed a design until I was stuck in the middle of a four-deep connection of dynamic arrays.”

This is great – understanding why you are succeeding or failing allows you to keep doing the things that work, and change the things that don’t. Before this first-year curriculum restructure, and this course, software development process awareness could avoid our students until late second- or third-year. Not any more. You got run over by the infamous Library prac? You know, you should have written a design first. And now my students have all come to this realisation as well. Two of my favourite quotes so far are:

“[Programming in C++] isn’t hard but it’s tricky.”


“It’s not until you have a full design [that you can] see the real scope of the project.”

But you know I’m all about measurement so, after I’d marked everything, I went back and looked at the scores, and the running averages. Now here’s the thing. The assignment was marked out of 10. Up until 2 hours before the due date, the overall average was about 8.3. For the last two hours, the average dropped to 7.2. The people commenting in the last two hours were making loose statements about handing up late, and not prioritising properly, but giving me enough that I could give them some marks. (It’s not worth a lot of marks but I do give marks for style and reflection, to encourage the activity.) The average mark is about 8/10 usually. So, having analysed this, I gave the students some general feedback, in addition to the personalised feedback I put on every assignment, and then told them about that divide.

The fact that the people before the last minute had the marks above the average, and that the people at the last minute had the marks below.

One of the great things about a reflection assignment like this is that I know that people are thinking about the specific problem because I’ve asked them to think about it and rewarded them with marks to do so. So when I give them feedback in this context and say “Look – planned hand-in gets better marks on average than last-minute panic” there is a chance that this will get incorporated into the analysis and development of a better process, especially if I give firm guidelines on how to do this in general and personalised feedback. Contextualisation, scaffolding… all that good stuff.

There are, as always, no guarantees, but moving this awareness and learning point forward is something I’ve been working on for some time. In the next 10 days, the students have to write a follow-up report, detailing how they used the lessons they learnt, and the strategies that they discussed, to achieve better or more consistent results for the next three practicals. Having given them guidance and framing, I now get to see what they managed to apply. There’s a bit of a marking burden with this one, especially as the follow-up report is 4-5 pages long, but it’s worth it in terms of the exposure I get to the raw student thinking process.

Apart from anything else, let me point out that by assigning 2/10 for style, I appear to get reports at a level of quality where I rarely have to take marks away and they are almost all clear and easy to read, as well as spell-checked and grammatically correct. This is all good preparation and, I hope, a good foundation for their studies ahead.

4 Comments on “Rush, Rush: Baby, Please Plan To Submit Your Work Earlier Than The Last Minute”

  1. Liz Phillips says:

    Higher marks for early submissions versus those on the wire is not surprising to savvy educators. However, when I point this out to my students, they always seem surprised it plays out that way. I can warn them, and then when it happens, there’s this “not supposed to happen to me” expression. A couple of years ago, American educators on the middle school level learned about “The Power of i” (how giving an incomplete for an assignment gives students a chance to complete an assignment without penalty of grade as long as it’s turned in). I had to try it. Of course, accountability is important, and what the big experiment revealed is that the quality of the work suffers with The Power of i except in extenuating circumstances where a STRONG student benefits from completing the assignment. This process caused assignments to be done out of context (in that the assignment was not completed in alignment with the lesson, thereby attaching it to the wrong hands-on experience, lecture, etc.–if it was attached anywhere in the schema at all). It gave kids permission to not be on time for any assignment. That was three years ago, and I am still being punished with about 75% of assignments missing from gen ed classes where the advanced students are in an honors-oriented class elsewhere in the building. These students do not believe me when I say late work will receive penalty of grade. It will be two more years before the Power of i kids no longer enter my classroom.

    As usual, your time bank study and analyses of student feedback are not only interesting, but VERY important for educators to consider. Your analyses of student performance is becoming a cornerstone in my classroom management system as I purge the “soft” deadlines policies of the past.


    • nickfalkner says:

      I have worked with people who don’t understand that (a) the standards they set for timely submission will affect student perception from that point on and (b) how important the context is for the assignment placement. You’ve nailed some of my key concerns with this comment – look out, I’m probably going to build an entire blog post around this. Thank you!

      (p.s. Why haven’t you and I managed to change the world yet? We’re certainly trying hard enough! 🙂 )


  2. Keith Cohen says:

    This experience also applies in the “real” world.

    Taking time to organize and present work outputs – whether code, business plans or a color scheme – in a fashion which makes the value and utility of the work clear has value itself, aside from the task to which the work was attended.

    Having the time to stand off from the work upon completion also allows for reflection on and correction of the work as a whole, which is especially hard to do when deep in the last sub-task before completion of a major project.


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