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December 2016

What to Expect of Your Middle School Student (part two)

By Stacey Wolking, HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant

Stacey, HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant

It’s exciting to see our children’s individuality really start to emerge around the middle school years. This is the time they tend to start pursuing special interests and building productive lifelong habits. Last month, we discussed ways to encourage those interests. This month, let’s look at what’s reasonable to expect of our middle schoolers—not only in academics, but also in character development.

The middle school years are a great time to evaluate where your student is emotionally and mentally, as well as to focus on specific character and developmental issues—especially honesty and integrity.

At this time of year, many of you take a break from academics to focus on the meaning of the holidays and on family traditions. I thought you might enjoy this past newsletter that focuses on a fun family tradition…cookies!  A Recipe for Fun…And Cookie!

And here are some additional last-minute Christmas ideas for families

By middle school, your student should be exhibiting these traits and skills:

  • Ability to peaceably resolve conflicts
  • Confidence in handling challenges and “curve-balls”
  • Independent thinking; willingness to speak up when she doesn’t agree; the ability to rationally discuss opposing viewpoints
  • Pursuit of his own interests; motivation to get his schoolwork done so he can get back to his own projects
  • A desire to learn for interest, not just when it’s required
  • Competence and willingness to find the answers to his own questions and problems
  • Goal-setting and working diligently to complete them
  • Decision-making skills like gathering information, weighing risks, and considering advantages and disadvantages
  • Enjoying being challenged and keeping at it, even when it gets tough
  • A desire to figure out what his personal beliefs are

Keeping It Honest

You are probably thinking, “My child wouldn’t cheat.” But did you know that according to a 2004 survey, the majority of 6th and 7th graders plagiarize regularly?

“The Center for Academic Integrity (McCabe and Pavela 2004) surveyed middle schools throughout the nation and found that 73 percent of seventh graders and 66 percent of sixth graders admitted to regularly borrowing materials without giving credit to their sources. The practice of cut-and-paste plagiarism is widespread, with students acting as though whatever they find on the internet can be submitted as their own work.”

With so much information literally at students’ fingertips, academic integrity is a greater issue than ever before. Shockingly, many kids say they don’t even know it’s plagiarism to copy something off the internet. Most kids know that it’s wrong to copy entire papers or paragraphs, yet they don’t think twice about lifting a sentence or just changing a few words. Paraphrasing is a particular area that often trips kids up as well.

Whether kids are lazy, unmotivated, disorganized, or just don’t have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is, it’s critical that we teach them what is and is not legal, and that we make sure they understand the nuances of it all. This is not something to teach on the fly. In order for your child to avoid illegal actions, he needs to have a thorough understanding of plagiarism as well as the importance and gravity of honest writing.

My brother, an intellectual property attorney, has dedicated his career to prosecuting and defending all types of intellectual creation theft—including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and yes, plagiarism. Our students need to know this is a serious issue with serious consequences.

As teachers, we must be aware of the possibility of cheating, routinely check our kids work for plagiarism, and establish clear consequences for plagiarism—deliberate or unintentional.

Plagarism is a very involved topic, too detailed to  include here, but hopefully you will find these resources helpful:

Lead Them Not into Temptation

Sadly, there are many other ways for our students to be dishonest in their schoolwork. Kids cheat for all kinds of reasons. Some are more afraid of bad grades than they are interested in learning, others are just lazy and don’t want to do the work, while others might not want to admit that they aren’t understanding the material and need help. And if we really want to be truthful, some just want to see how much they can get away with.

It is important that we recognize the temptation to cheat, so that we can take steps to hold kids accountable to do their best and honest work. The temptation to cheat is not just a public school problem; all are susceptible.

As a matter of fact, homeschooling offers unique opportunitites to cheat. Our students often have the answers in the back of the book or are given the answer key to check their own work or take tests in their rooms unmonitored. At the very least, they know where the answers are kept—and they usually aren’t under lock and key.

When an easier way is presented, choosing the hard or long way is probably not our most natural choice. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t recognize that even the best of us will occasionally cave and take the quick and easy way out. So it isn’t a matter of whether they will be tempted—the question is: will they be prepared when they are tempted to turn in less-than-honest academic works?

I know it is a fine line. When I was too busy,  I didn’t hesitate to hand my children the answer key and a red pen and ask them to check their own work. But I would hear an occasional protest when I would take away their pencil (so they couldn’t change their answers) and stay nearby while they did it. Their indignant response was, “Don’t you trust me?”

I hope it didn’t sound too trite or cliche, but sometimes I would respond with, “Yes, I trust your good intentions—but not your flesh [human-ness].”

It’s okay to get distracted or busy, but assuming our children won’t cheat is not the answer. That’s like sticking our heads in the sand. By leaving the answers in the back of the book or even just accessible in the drawer, we unwittingly provide every opportunity for them to succumb to their sin nature. Yes, cheating is a character issue, but it also has a lot to do with ease of access. So it’s a good idea to eliminate your child’s temptation.

If you do find someone cheating, offer them grace and some solutions. Do they need more hands-on help? Maybe a tutor? Obviously, they need to redo the work, even if it involves missing a summer break or other fun activities.

When caught, kids will usually feel horrible for disappointing us—and this is where grace comes in. Lovingly, use their failure as a teachable moment. Of course, there will be punishment. At the least they might lose the privilege of doing work in their room, but hopefully the natural consequence of your disappointment and the loss of your trust will have the most impact on your child. Assure him that all is not lost; make sure he knows that he can regain your trust by striving to be strong in mind and character and to choose the right and even harder thing.

We want our students to have the confidence to chase down new ideas and dream big. Let’s equip and encourage our middle schoolers to ask questions, express new ideas, and pursue all kinds of amazing adventures … honestly and legally. So enjoy your time with your middle schooler, and make good use of these in-between years!

May your holidays be filled with joy and peace.
Merry Christmas to you all!

Stacey Wolking
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens consultant

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