Possible solutions to student problems with work completion

Techniques to help students manage classroom assignments

By Ken Gobbo and Rich Grumbine, Landmark College

While most college students complete and submit their written work on time, there always seems to be a small group who struggle to complete and turn in their assignments by the designated deadlines. There are likely as many explanations for this difficulty with completing work as there are students. Some of the typical problems include poor self-regulation, challenges organizing time and materials, procrastination, anxiety issues, perfectionist tendencies and skill deficits.

There are steps an instructor can take to address these problems. The techniques that follow may help reduce the severity of work completion challenges and improve the rates at which students experience success in courses.

  • Provide an early due date.
    Rather than leave major assignments until the very end of an academic term, schedule a due date about two-thirds of the way through the term. This allows students opportunities for adjustments or problem solving related to work not submitted by the deadline.

  • Post all policies related to assignments and details of assignments in multiple easily accessible locations.
    Policies can be posted in paper copies distributed to students, electronically on course websites or via course management software, and/or at campus educational support centers. Multiple postings can help students who lack organizing skills to access course assignment details, including deadlines, at just about any time and in several locations. It can also allow anyone supporting them to see them as well.

  • Offer extensions for assignments that have been partially completed by the designated due dates, but no extensions for assignments that have not been submitted by the designated due dates.
    This encourages students with perfectionist tendencies to at least get started and submit some work, knowing that they will have an opportunity to continue working on a project without penalty. Sometimes, this can be enough incentive for some students to get through an entire assignment by the due date.

  • Provide “mini-deadlines” throughout the time allotted for major assignments (“micro-uniting” the work).
    This means break down larger assignments into smaller chunks students can complete sequentially. This allows students to feel less overwhelmed by the perceived immensity of a major assignment.

  • Require students to submit plans with benchmarks for large assignments.
    An instructor can then award credit for completion of the student-determined benchmarks. For example, a portion of the assignment's credit can be awarded for completion of an annotated bibliography or an abstract by the date identified in the “completion plan.”

  • Encourage or require individual meetings for students who, despite strong content understanding, just can't seem to get work done on larger assignments.
    Have students start the assignment during a meeting with the instructor. This may jumpstart the student toward completing the assignment on his or her own.

It can be a challenge to find the optimum combination of policies, timing and incentives to elicit peak performance from students who seem to have difficulty completing assignments. Implementing these techniques can help instructors make a positive difference for students who lack the assignment management skills that are essential for college success.

About the authors

Ken GobboKen Gobbo is an associate professor of psychology at Landmark College.


Rich GrumbineRich Grumbine is an associate professor of natural sciences at Landmark College.


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ken Gobbo, Landmark College, Putney, VT 05346.