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Ask the Teacher

"Best" efforts, morning routines, homework errors

November 2013

Question: I don't understand why my third grade son doesn't take pride in his work. I want him to give his best. How can I get him to put that kind of effort into his schoolwork?

"Give your best" is a worthy charge, but it is an ambiguous goal for a third grader. Are you asking that he work for a long time, work with concentration and focus or work without mistakes? How will you measure whether your son has given his best? Will you know that he has given his best when the work is perfect?

"Giving your best" requires a clear understanding of what that is. Define very specifically what your expectations are. Put the steps toward those expectations into concrete terms your child can understand. Acknowledge the effort taken practicing steps you have defined, without focusing on the end result. As the steps are taken, eventually the quality of work will show it.

Don't expect an immediate understanding of what "giving your best" is. Recognize that on a given day, a child's best may just be getting the work done. Unfortunately, there are days for all of us when that is all we can do!

Question: As a fourth grader, I think my son should be able to get through the basic morning routine without constant reminders from me. I spend all morning reminding him what needs to be done next in order for him to get out to the bus on time. Is it reasonable to expect that he should be able to do this on his own?

Expecting your fourth grade son to get ready for the bus each day himself without any assistance is unreasonable. However, it is reasonable for your son to develop routines and behaviors that will mature into the kind of independence you are seeking.

There are many steps to getting out the door each morning! Develop a list with your son. Walk through the steps to be sure nothing has been left off the list. Determine how much time the steps require and select a wake-up time accordingly. When your son is distracted by things not on the list or gets off track, refer him to the checklist. When he reports that he is ready, go over the checklist with him item-by-item. Have rewards and consequences in mind to reinforce adherence to the checklist.

If your child has trouble getting started in the morning, he should complete as many steps as possible before going to bed. He can pack his lunch, gather belongings into his backpack and lay out clothes for the next morning to minimize the morning to-do list. You may have to experiment a bit to find out what sequence of events produces the best results. He may want to eat breakfast first, or may want to start with a shower. Find out what strategy achieves the outcome you both are seeking.

Question: My fifth grade daughter is so careless. Her writing assignments are full of mistakes. Some of the errors she makes are the most basic things, like forgetting an end mark or not capitalizing "I". I know she knows better. When she proofreads, she only catches one or two problems. What can I do to get her to be more careful?

It's human nature to want to put down the paper as soon as the question is answered and to consider it done. Unfortunately, it is also human nature to makes mistakes, even when we know better!

Proofreading is not as simple as re-reading a paper. It is a skill in and of itself that must be taught. Helping your daughter understand that revising and editing are every bit as important to the writing process as pre-writing or brainstorming and constructing a rough draft will reinforce the importance of proofreading .

If time allows, hold the paper until the next day or at least for a few hours before having your daughter begin proofreading. Then have her read aloud what she has written. Each time that she has to stop or back up and reread a phrase is an indicator that there may be a problem.

After making those corrections to produce meaningful sentences, have your daughter go through an editing checklist one item at a time. For example, she should check over the entire paper for end marks. Then she should start at the beginning and check for capital letters. Your daughter is much more likely to do a good job of proofreading her work using this approach.

Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four and current teacher. Deb holds a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at

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