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Students Accepting Responsibility for Their Work

Alan K. Lipton Editorial Consultant, Edutopia

My 8th-grader seems to believe school is something that just happens to her. If she has any special needs (such as making up work missed while absent), it often takes parent-teacher interaction to address them. By this age, she ought to be developing a stronger sense of her own academic responsibilities. How do other parents deal with this?

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Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)

My $.02

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I had an 8th grader some time ago and I have fourth and second graders on their way--and a preschooler ready to break in. So I know and anticipate in my family's life what you are going through.
Your instincts about parent-teacher interaction are right on, IMHO. Letting your teachers know that you value interaction and intend to seek regular consultations with them is really important. No one wants to be a pest or overburden teachers (they have so much they have to do) that it helps to calibrate your interactions with your teachers' schedule and needs.
With my eighth grader, I also found that she became more pro-active academically and in all things school related when we said, high school is coming up. If you can manage it, you will have more freedom there. Let's get busy now learning how to manage. Show me now what you are capable of, so that next year, with all its changes, will be happier and easier for you. Trading more freedom and autonomy for more personal accountability often works in my experience.

former HS teacher, MEd, Education Administration, mom of 2

Some questions

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Before giving any suggestions, I have some questions. How has her academic experience been up to this point? Has she been intimidated by prior teachers/administrators? Maybe she is afraid of asking on her own. Does she not want to do the work or seems surprised that she had work to ask for? Does she seem overwhelmed by her educational program or bored? There could be a number of reasons for her not responding appropriately.

Editorial Consultant, Edutopia

Thanks for asking, Bonnie.

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Thanks for asking, Bonnie. She's a bright kid capable of above-average work when she feels like it. At this point she's extremely social and easily distracted by friends. (Electronic entertainment and social media do NOTHING to improve her attention span!) When she was younger, she started her work slowly and would just be getting into any given project when her classmates were finishing up and ready for the next thing. Her teachers have reacted variously to this over the years, some extremely patient, some less so. As an auditory learner, she sometimes appears disengaged when actually paying attention. My wife and I care about her educational progress and are pushing from the home end, but in most things we tend to be easygoing parents. Our low expectations of previous years may be coming back to bite us!

former HS teacher, MEd, Education Administration, mom of 2

Hi Alan - Some thoughts

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Check out Dr. Mel Levine's books - A Mind at a Time and the Myth of Laziness both will provide insights and will help you understand how to help her process her educational needs. For example, I once had a student who's mind really couldn't handle the abrupt change in focus as classes changed every 45 minutes. (Depending on who you read, the minority of us have brains that can readily adapt to the ways schools are time managed.) This student was just beginning to understand what was going on in 1st period so she seemed distracted as she was processing 1st period during the beginning of second period, and it just continued to snow ball throughout the day. By the time I had her 7th period, she seemed completely lost! She was a bright, capable girl.

Mel Levine's books explains how her brain is processing information to better advocate for her. With the student mentioned above, we convinced her guidance counselor to not give her two academic classes in a row so math first, gym second, english 3rd, lunch fourth, science 5th, art 6th and history 7th. That way she could decompress and better organize. (This took a good bit of convincing!) In college, she could control her classes - we have to demand that k-12 offers, within reason, the same type of flexibility.

Still in 8th grade students are afraid to "appear dumb" and ask for help if they see that everyone else seems to know what to do, and may use behaviors to cover up that they're confused. Teachers sometimes assume that they have skills. For example, my son failed an essay assignment and the teacher made him bring the paper home for me to sign, saying that he obviously "didn't care." I asked him if the teacher told them to brainstorm their essay, web, or other ways of organizing thoughts prior to starting. The teacher didn't, my son either didn't remember (or maybe wasn't taught) how to think about preparing to write. I asked the teacher to give him another assignment. He called me and said it was the best essay in the class, what did I do? I told him I taught him a skill. This teacher assumed that that skill had already been taught. These assumptions get worse and worse as the kids get older.

Finally, as kids get into middle and high school, depending on the philosophy of the school, teachers are "independent contractors", i.e., they don't know what the other teachers are assigning. This can be overwhelming if all teachers put huge homework demands at once. She may have time management issues because prior to this, everything came so easily she didn't really have to worry or plan. (I found this very common with bright kids, I call it finally hitting the wall where they have to exert effort to succeed.) If she never had to do this, she just doesn't know how.

Hope this helps!

Bonnie

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