One Way Teachers (and Parents) promote Irresponsible Behavior

It’s the last week of the grading quarter and suddenly there’s an onslaught of students who have just now realized their grade isn’t what they want it to be.

“Can I do extra credit?”

“Can I do extra credit?”

“Can I do extra credit?”

The teacher looks at all the remaining papers that must be graded by Friday, thinks of these students who may well fail if they don’t do extra credit, (and also of the angry parents), and sighing, says, “okay.”

So with that one response – “Okay, you can do extra credit,” the students have learned they don’t really have to do all the required work during the quarter; they can wait until the last week and do a paper or two or an end-of-chapter exercise, and bring up their grade.

Let’s consider what the goal of school is: Is it to earn a grade or is it to learn? To a certain extent, it’s both, but here’s the issue: we – both teachers and parents – have confused the reporting system with the process of learning.

Today, teachers in most systems are required to give students a list of what they are to know and be able to do by the end of each learning unit. These are called learning objectives. During the unit, teachers engage students in various activities and assignments in which the students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Based on results of all activities, the students and the teacher know more than a grade. They know what learning has been accomplished and what remains to be accomplished.

With this process in mind, at the opening of the grading quarter, teachers can hand out a class rule that, to do extra credit, the requirement is that the student makes an appointment with the teacher during the quarter; maybe any time up until two weeks before the end. During that quarter, if either the teacher or the student sees a need for additional work in order to meet a learning objective, they meet together and examine which learning objectives the student hasn’t yet satisfactorily demonstrated. Then the student completes work that demonstrates he or she has met those learning objectives. This process encourages students to accomplish the learning, and therefore, is legitimate extra credit. As a consequence, in all likelihood the student also earns an acceptable grade – not because of an extra paper or a set of questions unrelated to what the student still needs to learn, but because the student has demonstrated learning in the targeted areas.

If, on the other hand, the student does not respond to or initiate extra credit work, and the number of unmet learning objectives becomes too high for the student to be able to reasonably accomplish them, then the natural consequence is that the student fails. Yes, natural consequences are in order at this point.

BUT, just as parents guide and support their kids through the uncomfortable consequences of irresponsible behavior at home, so too, the teacher now does the same, being available and helping the student to meet the needed learning objectives before the end of the course. If the student doesn’t accomplish this task, he or she fails the course.

For this process to be successful, parents must partner with teachers to help their kids through the hard work of turning their past poor choices into responsible choices. Now is the time when educators and parents can carry out these procedures because all these significant adults are present to guide, support, and encourage kids.

Later (Yikes, by 17 or 18), they’ll be away at college or working on a job. When they are, they’re primarily on their own. How frightening is that thought! By the time they are, we want them to be prepared by having internalized the values and skills necessary for making responsible choices.


Copyright Judy Harmon Holmes 2018

3 thoughts on “One Way Teachers (and Parents) promote Irresponsible Behavior

  1. The Autonomous Traveler

    Great article. One of the greatest lessons of life is that absolutely everything we do has a consequence. We do students a great disservice when we don’t teach that lesson.


  2. Phyllis

    JUDY, this makes so much sense. It goes along with, “Do your best the first time.”
    Then extra credit may be granted. But that is a judgement call by all parties involved.


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