Have you ever heard the expression, "If you give a man enough rope, he'll hang himself"? If you've given out enough assignment extensions, then you know exactly what this old expression means. Essentially, if you give someone enough flexibility, then they may just exercise enough autonomy to really mess things up for themselves.
Granted, from time to time, assignment extensions are both justified and beneficial. However, in my experience, such situations represent the minority of extension requests. Most of the time, extensions are requested because a student would simply prefer to have what they perceive to be more time to work on an assignment. Here's the problem: extensions don't provide "more" time to work on an assignment, they just provide "later" time. Students who receive extensions generally fool themselves into thinking that they'll do a better job with additional time, only to find that they end up with no more time than they would have had if they just remained committed to the original due date. Now, if a student can genuinely benefit from "later time" because of a longer-term conflict related to a personal issue or a co-curricular commitment, then an extension may be just what the doctor ordered. However, if the student is suffering from the "more time" delusion, then an extension will likely provide no additional benefit to the assignment in question, while crowding out precious time required for subsequent tests and assignments. (After all, the more you put off today, the more you'll have to do tomorrow.) The trick to granting beneficial extensions is to be able to accurately differentiate between "more time" delusions and "later time" benefits. A tool I've developed that seems to do a fairly good job at this is what I call the "extension application."
The Extension Application
The extension application is a tool that essentially requires the student to:
The application is contained within a single letter-size form, is completed entirely by the student, and is separated into the request form and a handy extension receipt that is retained by the student. Thus, it provides both the teacher and the student with a document to remind them of the extended assignment date. (No quibbles down the road about who did or didn't receive an extension, or for how long.) Best of all, the application process really puts the onus on the student to clearly establish the need for the extension, and it makes the student think more deeply about the benefit that would be derived from an extension. In my experience, the extension application process reduces the overall number of extension requests while increasing the average benefit derived from those extensions that are granted.
You can download a ready-to-use PDF version of a generic extension application below. I've also included a link to an html version of the extension application, so you can copy and modify the text to suit your needs. Try this out for a while, and let me know how it goes.
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