Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Solutions 101, or Why Teachers Lower Grades for Late or Incomplete Assignments

At Maharishi School, we incorporate into our daily routine with students instruction on the four Core Values: respect, responsibility, solutions, and service. As we move toward the end of the first semester of instruction, the importance of helping students learn to be solution-oriented is reinforced by what I see and hear. This is especially true, I suppose, because I teach junior high students.

Our teaching the Core Values provides all the teachers and students at our school with a common terminology, but educators for many years have been aware of what has been called the "hidden curriculum," the task teachers have of helping kids grow up.

Let me give you some examples of the need to encourage students to find solutions.
  • "I didn't do the fourth question because I didn't get it," says the student. "Did you ask your parents for help or call a friend? I know you didn't call me." "No." "Then not doing one of the five problems will automatically lower your grade twenty percent."
  • "I didn't do my homework because my parents were really busy this weekend, and I had to be with them," says the student. "Did you tell them you had homework and that it was due Monday?" "No."
  • "I don't agree with this grade," says the student. "I think I should get an 'A,' not a 'B.'" "I will explain what you can do to rewrite your essay to raise your grade, but I will not argue or debate your grade with you."
  • "I didn't feel like doing homework this weekend, so I didn't," says the student. "That will lower your grade when you turn it in late. Right now you have a zero grade for the assignment."
  • "I don't like this assignment," says the student. "I've provided some choice in the assignment to help you like it more. Choosing not to do the assignment wasn't on the list."
Students are raised and protected by parents and teachers. This is how it should be. Lowering grades for late assignments--or not allowing students an easy excuse for late or incomplete assignments--is a means of teaching students the importance of finding solutions to challenges. It allows them to experience the cause and consequence cycle that is so much a part of decision-making, yet to experience it in a caring, nurturing environment.

Many times talking or explaining the situation to a young person just isn't effective. Young people sometimes need a concrete cause-and-effect experience for them to learn. This is why science class includes "labs" in its repertoire of activities. The school environment provides a relatively safe "lab" for students to learn how to be responsible and to find solutions to challenges.

Being solution-oriented is part of the "hidden curriculum" that schools teach to augment parental instruction in the same values. In some schools, like Maharishi School, it is no longer a "hidden" skill that is being taught. The Core Values of respect, responsibility, solutions, and service are explicitly taught to aid students in their understanding of what it means to be a successful adult.

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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