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Put Your Name on Your Paper

Updated: Mar 26

“How can something so basic be so difficult?” I lamented to a fellow classroom teacher. After several weeks of reminders and what I thought were meaningful discussions, many of my first graders continued to submit work with no name. Imagine my surprise when my colleague responded that she too had to address the ‘name on the paper’ issue regularly with her fourth graders!

Determined to put the ‘name on the paper' issue to rest and certain that the entire class was entirely capable of mastering the task, I solicited the assistance of their parents. As a result, a few additional students successfully got on board. But with the goal of 100%, I knew I had to ‘up the ante’! During a class meeting, I once again revisited the issue, explaining that all were to follow suit immediately. Knowing that first graders LOVE stickers, I went on to state that anyone who submitted completed work but failed to put their name on their paper would NOT receive a sticker. One would have thought I had told the class that the cafeteria would be serving only broccoli for lunch for the rest of the year!

It didn’t take long for class members to take note of the fancy, glittery, stickers (i.e., cartoon characters, action heroes, zoo animals…) proudly displayed on papers that were completed and included the name of the student who submitted the work. Within one week, all students were printing their name on their work regularly. Were there occasional times of forgetfulness? Of course. Did the rule change during those times? Of course not. Children do not naturally develop a sense of responsibility; it must be taught. Internalizing the benefits of responsible behavior is most effectively achieved by experiencing the negative repercussions of irresponsible behavior.

The fourth-grade teacher used a similar approach with her students. At the time, fourth graders received letter grades based on a numerical grading system. Because the teacher taught multiple subjects, she required a specific heading on all papers (ex: name, date, subject, page number). Under the new approach, one point was deducted for each missing component, with a maximum of four deduction points possible. Over time, ‘heading’ point deductions could impact the final report card grade. No name on a paper meant no grade. With administrative support for the teacher’s strategy and the assurance that the required ‘heading’ would be posted on the board daily, even the most reluctant parents realized that the goal of building student responsibility was not only reasonable but also in their child’s best interest.

There is something amiss when students who have been in school for years have to be reminded to do such a simple task. The ‘name on the paper’ issue is reflective of a larger concern. It demonstrates a basic lack of responsibility, failure to appreciate the reason for and importance of a logical directive, and an inconsiderate attitude toward authority. All are basic character traits that have traditionally been instilled in children by their parents during the first five years of life. Increasingly, that responsibility is falling on teachers, coaches, and other non-custodial adults.

Holding children accountable for managing small tasks early in life lays the foundation for managing larger tasks later. Regularly making one’s bed, feeding a family pet, loading/unloading the dishwasher, sorting, folding, and putting away laundered clothes are simple tasks that serve to foster both personal responsibility and teamwork. Likewise, the ability to demonstrate personal responsibility and effectively collaborate with a team is known to positively impact student achievement at school.  

Refusing to do logical, meaningful tasks for children that they are capable of doing for themselves is a gift that can serve them well for a lifetime.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, March 2024





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