If you find yourself attending a 3rd grade science fair, it’s likely you’ll notice a thing or two about the projects. The first is that the experiments will probably run the familiar gamut from growing mold to measuring colors or tastes of favorite candies. The next thing that may pop out is that the quality of work on the poster boards will vary greatly. Some displays will look like professional graphic designers produced them in a studio. Other efforts will resemble crooked, messy presentations that look like they were thrown together by an 8-year-old.
Wait, shouldn’t all the projects look like they were created by an 8-year-old?
Of course the answer is yes. Ideally, projects assigned to a student should be completed by the student and not by a parent. How can a teacher make sure this happens?
The following three ideas are taken from experiences by real teachers in real classrooms. Use these examples to help strike a balance between making sure assignments are completed by students while still accepting occasional parental help:
1. In the case of a display project like a science fair poster board, state on the rubric that the physical display piece will not be graded. Parents may think twice about working on the display if they know it won’t be part of the grade. Instead, consider evaluating these types of projects based on other supporting criteria. For example, one requirement could be a handwritten paragraph detailing the hypothesis or the steps of the experiment, etc. Emphasizing that the paragraph must be handwritten by the student guarantees that the parent cannot take over.
2. Make time for a project to be created during class. This strategy works well for assignments like creating a poster about one of the 50 states, decorating a paper snowman during the holidays and other similar tasks. Parents can’t do all the work if they are not there!
3. Assign realistic projects. Asking first graders to make a costume that describes a word for a vocabulary parade sounds fun and creative. However, parents will obviously need to help out on something like that. Unfortunately, once Mom or Dad gets the ball rolling, it may be hard for them to stop. If your goal as a teacher is to evaluate a student’s work on a particular project, the task should match the student’s ability. This is especially necessary if the majority of the project work will be done at home.
Parents who take an interest in their child’s education are doing the right thing and every teacher should value parental support. However, the students will benefit the most when they are responsible for their own assignments and projects. Parents may be embarrassed when they see that their child’s project looks, well, childish. It’s this type of concern that likely drives parents to do more work than they should on a student project.
If teachers are able to manage assignments in a way that helps ensure they will be completed by only the student, parents can hopefully learn when it is appropriate to help and when it is not appropriate.