Saturday, January 15, 2011

Getting Students to do Quality Work

How do you get kids to do quality work both in and out of the classroom?

I begin each year by taking time to talk to students my expectation that they each do their "personal best." Then I show a few examples of what personal best does and does not look like. We also talk about how each student has a different level of personal best. My big message to the class is that if I do not see a student's personal best effort on an assignment, I will not accept it. This means they will have to do it over. I always tell my students that it takes less time for them to focus on the job and do their very best the first time than to have to do the assignment 2 or 3 times until I find it acceptable.

It is also important to be consistent about expecting quality work products. I "Okay" each project before it is turned in. Students show me their work, and usually at a glance I can tell whether it is up to par or not. Each student has a different personal best, so I accept different levels of work depending on the student. I can also see who is actually putting in effort as I constantly walk around monitoring while students are working on the project. Between monitoring and giving my "okay" on an assignment, I can make sure that students are doing their personal best.

In the beginning children of all ages will test you, continuing to do quick and sloppy work. However, the more you send them back to do it over until they get it right (even if it becomes extra homework), the more they will start to do it correctly the first time.

It also helps to have an example prepared showing your expectations for the final product. Show students the quality of the picture. Point out the features and details you want to see in their product. Read the written part and again point out the specific details you want included in the content of their project. You might also put guidelines on the board or overhead. Example for a postcard activity with a reading assignment: "Postcard must include a detailed drawing of 2 characters including the type of clothes he or she would wear, and a place you might see this character from the story; colored pencils only (no crayons or markers); entire front of postcard must be filled with drawing and color" "Content must include at least: ____________, _________, and ____________." This gives students a checklist of sorts to look at while they are completing their project. It also provides more guidelines than just saying "Create a postcard about 2 characters from the story. I want a drawing on the front and character traits on the back."

Providing more guidelines for students on open-ended creative projects and assignments helps them to meet your criteria for the assignment. Guidelines also offer more structure to help students. This is especially important when you are just beginning to use these kinds of activities. Add in a reminder discussion about personal best, and do not accept work that is under par for the student. The combination of structure and high expectations should result in better end-products.

I follow this advice with my son at home when he completes homework. He has a tendency to work quickly in order to get it over with. However, he is not allowed to do any other activities (TV, playing, sports, etc.) until I check his homework and see that it is his personal best. If I do not think it is neat enough or done correctly, then he has to go back and do it again. Although it is frustrating to him, after a few weeks of listening to me say, "Do it again with your personal best effort," he completes his work as he should the first time around.