The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Taking Responsibility

One of the core expectations in my classroom, and throughout my school district, is that of being responsible. Responsibility looks different depending on the setting, but it is a core character trait that we deeply believe in fostering in each of our students. In my classroom, I have a sign that signifies some of the elements of responsibility as doing your own work, following directions, asking for help, and accepting consequences.

It is this last one that I am particularly pondering today. Near the start of the year, I told the students about the first independent research project they would have for the year. They would each select a fish (or mussel) found in the Great Lakes and learn some basic information based on questions they asked. I emphasised that they could select any medium they desired to share what they had learned: report, poster, video, etc. They were given the assignment sheet three weeks ago and we took time in the classroom or in the computer lab  nearly every day to work on it. Students were also told that they could work on the projects at home, but they did not have to do so if they used their time in class wisely. This project was brought up on a daily basis for the past three weeks. Reports were due today.

Some of the students had reports ready to share. Others did not. A few had approached me earlier this week and asked for an extension while they were trying to finish up the last details of their projects. Anyone who asked for help, by way of asking for an extension, was granted it. Those who did not ask for one and did not complete their projects are still responsible for completing them, though. I do not reduce points on a project for being turned in late, because the due date has nothing to do with the content. Turning in assignments on time is an item that appears on the district’s report cards, of course, but the reports are about what students have learned about the ecology of the Great Lakes, specifically how different animals have adapted to live there.

I was pleased that my students accepted the consequences of having late assignments. They understand that they are still responsible for the work and that they will still need to turn them in. Some may find themselves working over the upcoming three-day weekend (no school for students on Friday because of a district inservice day), and others will have to use time in the computer lab for continued research instead of other preferred activities.

Will one late assignment be the end of the world? Of course not. These students are children, after all. But I have repeatedly focused on my belief that my job is not just to get my students through fourth grade. My job is to help them develop the skills and habits necessary for lifelong learning. That is why I believe it is important for students to complete assignments on time. It is important to accept consequences for actions. By doing so, I hope that my students will all be one step closer to becoming independent thinkers, learners, and doers.


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