Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"I didn't get it done..."

Aren't those the words we dread from our students?  I rarely talk to a teacher who doesn't have some problem with late or incomplete work.  Usually, we get excuses.

"I didn't get it done because I forgot my book."

"I didn't get it done because my brother spilled milk on it."

"I didn't get it done because I had volleyball practice."

What if we teach our students to look forward instead of informing us about the past?

Let's teach them to replace the because with so.  I really don't care WHY it wasn't done.  I want to know what THEY are going to do to get it done!

Teach your students to say,

"I didn't get it done so I'm going to come in after school to finish it."

"I didn't get it done so I will get it to you by tomorrow."

"I didn't get it done so I will get another worksheet and get working on it in study hall."

Wouldn't you love to be done with excuses and see students taking responsibility?  I'm returning to work from 8 weeks of maternity leave on Monday and I'm going to try this out!  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!  To me it's just a small change in mindset that can make a big difference.


  1. Love it!

    I want to preempt those who will say "If they didn't do it, maybe it wasn't meaningful to them." I was part of the conversation that spurred this thinking, and we're talking about the 10% of kids who don't do *anything* and have an excuse for *everything.* Not those for whom "school doesn't work" but for those that just don't do any work.

    I know Becky said the dreaded word "worksheet" but for me, it's stuff like posting an essay on our blog after we've spent two weeks in class drafting. It's choosing not to do the project *in class.* It's me giving them the rubric for an essay and them being unable to hold onto it for 24 hours, then telling me "I lost it" as if it's a problem that only I can solve.

    Our kids need to become self-reliant and focusing on the future -- the so... -- is a huge step in that direction.

  2. We had this very conversation with our 6th grader last night ;-)

    And, hope your return is wonderful and goes smoothly.

  3. Great post! I have been trying to make my students more accountable all year. I try to get them to understand that all of their choices have consequences, and I outline what those consequences are in advance. Good luck coming back to school, I see the timestamp on your post ;), feel your pain!

  4. Great great great post! As a mom who is an activist for education policy I'd like to suggest that anyone who is on a mission to change the schoolhouse as we know it (ed tech, librarians, 1:1, NEA) employ this actionable advice.

    Oops posting from iPhone-hope I finished!

    It's time to stop imagining a better system of education and get it done.
    It will take thinking and acting out of the box. . . And not accepting no as an answer.

    When my 2 comadres and I first went to our statehouse 3 years ago we were told 'it takes 7-10 years on average to get policy changed, great issue-we will see you next year. ' our response? 'we measure things in kid-years and that time-line is unacceptable. ' They replied with a sweep of the hand and said, 'be our guest it's your Democracy. '

    In 12 weeks during a short-session we were successful in winning $4mm in emergency funds. The next year we won a line-item for teacher-librarians that expanded the definition to include information literacy and technology and a host of other key ed reforms- a task that hadn't been completed in 30 years. This year? Despite the economic times a downpayment of a billion dollars to make good on the ed reform passed the year before.

  5. In one of my ed courses at Northern Iowa (Schools in American Society with Dr. Berg) I vividly remember the beginning of our second class. At the end of our first class, Dr. Berg had asked everyone to bring a picture of themselves so he could associate our likeness with our work. Needless to say, many students had come to class without their picture - some had simply forgotten, while others said they had tried to get one, but had all kinds of excuses of why they didn't have it. After hearing repeated excuses, Dr. Berg, without saying a word, turned his back on the students, walked to the board, and wrote:

    "Berg's Rule #1: Failure with excuse is still failure."

    We pretty much understood immediately. I've shared that rule with many of my classes, and some kids really take it to heart. It certainly doesn't mean I never care about the "why," but I think you've got this right: having a plan to fix the problem is worth many times more than the excuse that caused it. Good luck using this with your students!

  6. I tried to incorporate this on a very small scale with my students. I have taken a lot of time to think about this blog post and I find more and more ways to get my kids to use this method every day. I want to say that my students have developed more learned self-helplessness than the average hearing student, so it's been very difficult to break this habit, but I'm really glad you posted about this. I think having this opinion in mind when I start teaching my own room will be must easier than trying to break the habit in the middle of the year without the support of my cooperating teacher.
    You're wonderful! I love it :)