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Ginny Seuffert shares how with some help from the lesson plans, and a right attitude, we can decide when helping a child ceases and doing his work for him begins.

Is It Cheating?


Ginny Seuffert shares how with some help from the lesson plans, and a right attitude, we can decide when helping a child ceases and doing his work for him begins.

When my children were in a parish school almost 20 years ago, I worked hard at being a responsible parent.

I faithfully attended open houses and parent/teacher conferences so I could learn what the teachers expected of the students in their classes. I religiously checked assignment pads on a daily basis to make sure that homework was finished, and I signed the pages to let teachers know I was on top of things. I reviewed every completed page of homework to make sure all were neat, complete and correct.

Sometimes, I would insist that a child redo a page if it was not completed to my satisfaction. If one of my children seemed unsure of a particular concept, I would reteach it or review it. We would discuss compositions and I would help the children build a vocabulary and make an outline.

If I was unhappy with a particular finished product, I would write a note on the top of the page like, “I have spoken to Alicia about her messy penmanship and she assures me she will be neater in the future.” When assignments were completed to my standards I signed the top of the page.

Needless to say, the teachers loved me. I went through this routine five nights a week for 14 years. I was a home schooler for years before I knew such a thing existed; the biggest difference now is I home school in the morning, instead of at night.

All of this may explain why I do not share the scruples that many of our Seton Moms seem to have about what is considered cheating. These are all nice religious ladies who want to do the right thing, and worry about the distinction between providing teaching help versus actually providing answers.

Truth be told, the line is not always as clear as it could be, and frankly, the difference between helping and cheating might differ from child to child. This seems to be especially true about written compositions.

Nevertheless, I think with a bit of thought, some direction from the lesson plans, and a right attitude, we can decide when helping a child ceases and doing his work for him begins.

Let’s take the example of a third grader writing a paragraph that needs to be sent to Seton for grading. The topic is the family pet. Mom has not had the time to do all the composition practice in the lesson plans and has been less than pleased with Junior’s previous efforts. She decides more help is needed and sits down with him at the computer.

At Mom’s prompting, Junior shares his thoughts about the family’s dog and Mom types out some words and phrases for him to use later and to ease the spelling anxiety from which so many young boys suffer. She explains again that the first sentence has to introduce the main idea of the paragraph and make people want to read more.

She wants at least four additional detail sentences using the phrases that she has already typed out, and a final sentence that gives Junior’s personal opinion about the dog. She reminds him to indent the first line, to start every sentence with a capital letter, and end each one with proper punctuation. So far, nothing Mom has done would constitute cheating.

The distinction becomes less clear when Junior shows Mom the finished product.

It’s absolutely awful, and she is not quite sure what to do. It seems to be the honest thing to send in the composition and let Junior take his knocks from the Seton grader. If Mom gives him any more direction—and he seems to need an awful lot of direction—isn’t that cheating?

Absolutely not!

It’s only cheating if Mom rewrites the paragraph herself and passes it off as Junior’s work. It is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, for Mom to sit down with him and once again go over each part of the assignment.

They have to work on the introduction, the body and the conclusion so that each part expresses the thoughts they are intended to express. This is not cheating; rather, it is a teaching opportunity. Here are a few ideas that might help you teach composition.

  • A good practice is to have him read his effort to Mom, one sentence at a time. Often, when the sentences are read aloud, it becomes clear that they make no sense whatsoever.
  • If he seems overwhelmed, have him express a thought orally and Mom can type it. Some children speak quite well, but take more time to make the connection that written words are nothing more than thoughts recorded on paper.
  • From the earliest grades, your children’s compositions will be better if they use the word processing program on a computer. Purchase a simple game-type program to teach keyboarding.
  • Some students just need to record bare bones thoughts on paper and then go back to revise and polish. For example, a first draft opening sentence might be. “We have a pet dog.” Mom says, “Who does?” “What breed of dog.” “What is the dog’s name?” Now the opening sentence might read, “My big Catholic family has a playful chocolate Labrador retriever named Fetch.”
  • Now ask the child to expand on some of the ideas in the topic sentence. By all means, ask leading questions like, “Why do you say Fetch is playful? What games does he play?” These may lead to a middle sentence like, “Fetch never gets tired of playing catch with a Frisbee in our backyard.”
  • Help the student write a last sentence that sums up, presents an opinion or gives a final thought. Ask him to give his work a title. When I was in school, the final step would be to rewrite the paragraph, on lined paper with straight margins, in our best penmanship. Good students took pride in presenting a finished product to Sister, and hoped to see our work displayed on the classroom bulletin board. Obviously things have changed, but we can instill a sense of pride in our children for their work.
  • Make sure the children type “J.M.J.” in the center top and have a clear heading, with name, Seton student ID number, subject, quarter, and grade at the top of the document.
  • Have the children pick a clear, easy-to-read font. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier are good choices. (Give our graders a break and do not allow your child to choose a flowery script font.)
  • Teach how to double-space compositions.
  • See if you have a digital picture of Fetch, or find a picture of a chocolate Lab on-line, and insert it above the title.

Now the paragraph is done.

Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like an awful lot of work for just one short assignment – and it is! On the other hand, this is just the kind of one-on-one learning that is a major benefit of home schooling.

“Walking” a child through an assignment shows him, in a very concrete manner, all the steps he needs to take next time. He will be able to use the skills he has learned and apply them to the more complex assignments in the years to come. It is a great investment of your time.

Tip of the Month:

If your children dawdle and always seem to get a late start in the morning, there is a simple solution. “Set up” their workspace the night before.

Make sure they have some assignments that can be worked on independently, in case you are busy, and a pen or a pencil with a point. Set an alarm, if you need to, but make sure the children start at the same time every day.

About Ginny Seuffert

Ginny Seuffert has been a leading writer and speaker about homeschooling and Catholic family life for more than two decades. She has given hundreds of talks at conferences and written three books. Meet Ginny | Ginny's Books
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