One Teacher's View on Deadlines and Their Use in His Classroom

Dave, a high school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, is trying a new approach with the use of deadlines in his classroom. Below, I have copied his entry from his blog Real teaching means real learning. What do you think about deadlines? This is an ongoing topic of discussion amongst many of us and will be something I visit often.
Why we should not have set deadlines in school

I wonder what school would look like if we didn’t have set timelines or completion dates for the assessments of students.

This is the thought I wanted to address this year in one of my classes.  Instead of having set dates for exams, and a set timeline for project dates, I created a learning environment that is conducive for the needs of every single student in my class.

Let’s first look at the problem of having a timeline for when students must demonstrate their knowledge.

Usually, a teacher makes their year plan around the goal of covering all the outcomes of the course.  This teacher must make predictions on how long it will take to cover each individual outcome, which is usually based upon previous years and other students.  Test dates are then inserted strategically throughout the year to determine when it is best for the class to demonstrate their knowledge.  The problem….the teacher is worrying about the class not the individual students.

I have heard teachers say they teach at a pace such that the “average students” can follow, and my assessment dates are around when the “average student” should be able to demonstrate knowledge.  By definition then we are actually pleasing no one!  Half of the students will feel this day comes too late as they have already learned the material and could demonstrate it classes ago, while the other half believes that the pace is too quick, and they will need more classes until they are comfortable demonstrating the material.  Once again, it is very unlikely that we are meeting the needs of any student by trying to meet the needs of the “average student”.

How have I changed this?

I teach on the same timeline and give students an assessment similar to this.  DA with Derivatives , but instead of taking 3 days for the test (1-2 days for review then the 3rd to administer the exam) I provide the student with 1-2 days to complete the assessment.  Students who understand the material quickly are able to work on the assessment ahead of time and complete it immediately, while students who need more time can use as much time as possible.  There is no set date for completion.

What if a student gets behind?

My first comment would be “Behind what?”  Some teachers have this notion that the pace of the class is the pace every student should be learning at, but does this make sense?  Remember these unit plans are created before even meeting our students, so how can we make a plan that addresses the individual student?  Saying that, if a student is not demonstrating the material at an acceptable standard at a time which you feel is detrimental to learning other outcomes, then instead of giving a bad mark and moving on I sit down with this student at lunch, or after school, and ensure this student learns the material.  Is it not our job to educate students?  By giving a test, and saying “sorry you haven’t learned everything, but I am moving on anyways” is actually not completing our job.

As teachers we must remember, our class sizes may be large and diverse but this is due to the fact that many individual students are making up this group and our assessment style should not be created to meet the needs of the “average student” but the “individual student”.


  1. I like how you think about the student as individual and not a class!!!

    1. We have to take them one at a time and consider each one's needs, right?!