Extra Help, Not Extra Credit

Today’s post comes from a recent email (used with permission, of course) from a member of our community:

Hi Laura,
I purchased your 9/10 curriculum and it’s going extremely well. My 10th grade students love their weekly routine and SSR. However, I have a situation where I’m seeking your advice. Recently, a parent contacted the guidance counselor and wanted to switch from my gen ed class to an honors class because she said her son was bored and wasn’t feeling challenged in English class. The guidance counselor told her it was too late in the semester to switch him to an honors class, but the counselor also told me about the request and asked me to “give him more work.”

I asked my department head and she recommended that I give him a novel study in addition to what we’re doing in class.

He’s a good student: always prepared, participates in class, A average. He scored a “3” on last year’s state standardized testing (“3” is passing, and “5” is highest). I was wondering if you’ve had this situation before and what you’d recommend as far as an action plan.

Thanks heaps & bunches!
Ava Marie

Absolutely, Ava Marie, I’ve had the same thing happen a few times over the years; it’s unusual, but it does happen. Before I get into my approach, I have a couple of questions. Has the student also talked to you about this concern, or is this information coming to you solely through the counseling department? Have you personally spoken with this parent? I ask because I’ve found it’s sometimes (often?) the parent who wants this more than the student.

Also, I’d try to figure out if there’s something else behind the request. Did an older sibling have and love a different teacher on your staff who now teaches the honors classes? Does the kid have three friends in the honors class across the hall and this is a ploy to try to join them? Is this a smart kid who hates state testing or an average kid who loves school? The disconnect between his performance in class and his standardized exam score is interesting and worthy of discussion.

“Give him more work” is not a clear directive and I’d hesitate before following your department chairperson’s suggestion to throw an extra novel study at the kid. I’d have a different plan.

First, let me just say that I LOVE giving extra attention to students who are eager to grow. These kids make my tired teacher heart sing. Try to set aside any weird feelings you have about the parent request to transfer and realize that this kid and your work together just might become the highlight of your school year.

So, what to do? I’d meet with the student (it sounds like the parent should also be there in this case, though I usually meet with just the kid) to find out what’s up. What weak areas does the student want to strengthen? Do comma rules leave him baffled? Does the thought of writing a timed essay for the SAT make him want to hurl? Does he want to build his vocabulary? Read and discuss the classics? Write his own novel? I mean, what is the goal? That answer will shape your path.

In that meeting, I’d also make it clear that all of the work you two will do together is solely for enrichment; it will not be graded in a traditional way or entered into the grade book. This work is for extra growth, not extra credit. (By the way, I make this offer to ALL students, though very few ever accept my invitation. Shrug.)

After we’ve met and figured out this student’s specific area of focus, I toss the ball to his side of the court. Whenever he’s ready for an extra lesson, he needs to approach me on a Wednesday or Thursday to let me know that the upcoming weekend or school holiday is a good chance for him to take on an extra assignment. Then, I’ll have a night or two to pull together an assignment, which I give to him when SSR begins on Friday. He doesn’t work on the assignment during SSR – all of his extra work is done at home – but SSR provides a time for us to quickly meet and quietly discuss the task. When he understands what I want him to do, he puts the work away and returns to reading his SSR book. (Have I mentioned how much I love SSR Fridays? My teaching life couldn’t function without that breathing room.)

Then, the kid does the assignment over the weekend and either turns in the work or emails it to me the following Monday. Over the next few days, I review the work and give written feedback, which I then return and discuss with him on our next Friday SSR session.

When he’s ready for more, he just lets me know. I never nag or remind a student that we have more work to do. All of the requests need to come from him – not mom. In my experience, it’s rare that a student asks for more than three rounds of this over the course of a semester. Kids are busy or they forget or they never actually wanted the work in the first place. In the rare cases where a kid does regularly show up to ask for more, I’m thrilled and automatically become that kid’s super-fan; intrinsic motivation in a 15-year-old is a rare and beautiful thing.

Hope this helps, Ava Marie. Definitely let me know if questions or concerns arise.

Okay, teacher friends, what else would you add? What supplements do you use when students (or their parents) request more? Leave a reply below and, as always, teach on.

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Positive grit
5 years ago

This may sound harsh, but I don’t give “more work.” If the student is excelling, and only if they actually are, in fact, excelling in the class, I may give them different expectations and develop a different set of success criteria. I may also give them a more challenging book to read for the novel study, but have the same types of question sets. If I had a few students who are excelling, I would give them all a different novel. That’s just how I roll. I want to challenge them but I really don’t want it to be extra work for me. 🙂 I think Laura is correct, though; you need to get to the root of the desire for more work. Is it the student or the parent? I sometimes get students who aren’t doing as well as their parents expect tell their parents they are “bored.”

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Positive grit

Not harsh at all, Positive grit. If more kids took me up on my offer, I might also begin to re-consider all that extra work. As it is, the takers are few and far between, so this works for me. Heaven knows, we have enough on our plates each day and we all need to decide how much “extra” is too much. I’m right there with you.

5 years ago

I agree with both of you. I’ve had parents suggest their child needs to be challenged and yet the work I’m seeing from the kids isn’t stellar. Nevertheless, I assure Mom and student that almost anything we do in class can be taken to the next level. Writing a short story? Go for it – let’s see some deeper symbolism or theme, an intelligent twist, more length…whatever you’ve got to make this more advanced. I don’t give extra work. I just want to go deeper. From my experience, it usually doesn’t go much further as the student is not actually the one asking to be challenged with more work! I give Mom the answer she is looking for and we are all happy!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Renae

For sure, Renae! “More” isn’t the same as “better.”

5 years ago

As a former GT teacher (and non-task committed GTer myself), I always say that any honors or AP or GT class isn’t more work, it’s DIFFERENT work. I like the idea of addressing weak areas the student would like to work on, but I also think that having the student formulate their own questions instead of taking a quiz, or writing a review of the unit for future students, are some great ways to change it up and challenge a kid at the same time. Now granted, I’m a very outside-of-the-box thinker, so these types of kids are my cup of tea.

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago

I like that out-of-the-box approach, johnstonelagems, and know those great suggestions would interest most of the kids I know, too, regardless of designation. An interesting outcome of 20Time, my spring semester student-selected passion project, is that some of the best projects have been completed by kids with the Gifted/Talented designation who underperform in their regular academic work. Once I let them choose their objective and give them some support (but also know when to stay out of the way), some really great things can happen. I have a bunch of free stuff here if anyone’s looking for a way to meet those needs: Even if you’re not ready to unleash this huge project class-wide, it’s also a great way to give that “extra” without the prep burden. Definitely something to consider.

5 years ago
Reply to  Laura Randazzo

Story of my life as a GT kid- give me something I didn’t care about, and there was NO WAY it was getting done. Give me something I was interested in, and I would work on it diligently for weeks on end.

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago

Exactly. I think you were in my class last year. 😉

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