1St Grader Cheated on Spelling Test

Updated on May 04, 2009
H.K. asks from Lynnwood, WA
21 answers

My 1st grade son, age 6, came home today and said he got a zero on his spelling test. He got 10/12 this morning on the practice test. He told his Dad that he got a zero because he used the spelling list and got caught by his teacher! The teacher did not call our home or send home a note. I'm guessing it will come home next week with the test. We are disappointed in him, but glad that he told the truth. We said "Thank You" for telling the truth, but you are still in trouble and sent him to bed (it was 8:30 already). We want to discuss his punishment that we told him would be coming, but are unsure what would be appropriate.

I'm glad he told the truth, but very sad and mad that he felt he needed to cheat on a spelling test. He's only in 1st grade! We have promised the kids a trip to ColdStone for ice cream if they get 100%. And a different treat if they only miss 1 or 2. Are we putting too much pressure on him? My main question is: what is an appropriate response to his poor judgement?

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So What Happened?

I love all of your advice and insight. I have had an awful time trying to keep him motivated to do his school work. It takes about 2 hours each night to get him to write his 12 spelling words. The teacher has a different way for them to write their words each night. Then he has a 2 sided math sheet (which he flies through and does great at), followed by reading a paper or finishing his classwork and finally 15 minutes of reading. He loves to read and do his math and has a very hard time focusing on writing his spelling words.

We are sitting down with him to explain how happy we are that he told us the truth and that we expect better of him. We are very pleased with his progress and school. We just get frustrated with his "But what if I..." games. Like, what if I don't do my work? What if I don't go to school? What if I rip up my page? I explain that it is unacceptable and he needs to do his work to help his brain grow. If he is really pushing the issue and say to put his homework away and accept the zero. He usually finishes it. We've had a power struggle with him for awhile. His punishment of the zero on his spelling is enough. The ice cream became more of a date night. We've taken them each once. Again Thank You! You have helped me reach some perspective in this situation. The school has been handling the behavior problems so far. We are just trying to cut them off at home.

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answers from Seattle on

Hi H.,
I am a first grade teacher and just want to tell you that it is not unusual for first graders to do this. I am not sure that they always recognize it as cheating. I use it as a teaching opportunity. We talk about fairness and honesty and the kinds of consequences cheating can have as they advance through the grades in school. I always tell them if they make a mistake its ok....just set a goal to improve the next time. I would not be too worried about this unless it happens again. Your son has probably already figured out that what he did is not acceptable to you or to his teacher. It was a good lesson. Better to learn the lesson now than when he is older and would have severe consequences. You also don't want to overreact and lose that honesty. Its wonderful that he has enough trust in his parents to share with you.

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answers from Seattle on

Please please....learn this early!!!! What happens at school should be punished at school. What happens at home should have consequences at home. If you want him to continue to be honest with you, then he shouldn't have EXTRA consequences at home. If my child was grounded at home, the school would never then ground him at school too. I think the school will handle this and at home is just a time for you to talk to your son non-judgementally and ask him what he learned from this. He's human, he will be tempted, we all are. Don't shut down his willingness to tell you or talk to you. Don't condemn him (not that you are) and please emphasize how proud you are of him for being honest. I'm sure he learned from his mistake. He got a zero. That in itself is a punishment for him. Put yourself in his shoes...how would you feel if you did something wrong at work and you come home and mention it to your hubby, wife, etc. and now they punish you at home as well? Not to fair. Sure wouldn't make you anxious to discuss mistakes you make with them in the future now would it? Just a new perspective for you to think about. I read some of your responses and can tell you that I would never put my child on a guilt trip.....or reward them after a punishment. That's just defeating the purpose. This is a learning experience for him...one of many. Be there for him and teach him with love. AND...if you make a statement that he'll be punished later, and you change your mind...have the courtesy to tell him I made a mistake, you aren't going to be punished at home, but I do want you to write an apology (etc.) to the teacher for cheating or whatever. Once I say a punishment I do enforce it (have to) but if I have just "threatened" to do so, I'm known to rethink it and let the child know. This gives the option to take back things they may say in haste down the road. Just a thought.

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answers from Eugene on

Your son just taught you a principle early on that many others never learn or get, and that is: if you reward grades, results and outcomes, you encourage cheating. If you reward effort, the process and improvement, you encourage learning and character.

Better to focus on daily cheers for time spent on homework and mistakes learned from, and don't even pay much, if any, attention to the grades unless they are way out of the ordinary. The daily cheers will eventually take care of the grades and they will also be remembered and valued a thousand times more by your son than the one reward at the end of the year.

Also, if it were me, I would definitely reward the honesty. If you promised consequences for the cheating -- maybe reading a book that would improve his spelling would be nice. But I would be very warm and enthusiastic towards him about his honesty. Reward him *effusively* for his truth telling now and it will encourage him to be honest for the rest of his life. Another consequence of rewarding his coming to you with the truth? When he's a teen he'll be more likely to tell you about his personal life and his mistakes before they get out of hand. When he's an adult, he'll be more likely to call you on the phone to talk to you about his problems and mistakes. When he's a parent, he'll receive his children lovingly for their mistakes which they had the courage to face by telling their parents about it...

I'm more impressed your child's honesty than his cheating. After all, you the parent set up the cheating with the reward, but his inner character showed through all by itself with his telling you the truth. Congratulations, your son is showing wonderful qualities, in my opinion.

P.S. 3 hours of homework per night for a *six* year old??? The school system seems to be going to an extreme these days -- no wonder he wants to rip up his homework! Studies have shown that extra hours put into homework do *NOT* increase academic ability, learning or intelligence (i.e., it is a total waste of time!!) I kid you not when I say I would pull him out of that school and find some other kind of alternative school where they realize that these are actually CHILDREN, and are not here for slave labor! There are public charter schools in a lot of areas which offer an alternative to the standard educational format -- why don't you check them out?

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answers from Seattle on

I think your response was appropriate for the given circumstances.

I also teach middle school and I will say that cheating has gradually become more and more of an issue lately. Many times (not all) when I confront students whom I catch, they will say they wanted the "perfect" grade because their parents have offered a reward of some sort. I have had a student come to me in tears after getting a progress report with an A- on it because she felt that her parents would be disappointed. That was very sad. She also did not want me to contact her parents because she felt that they would be disappointed in her for talking to me about it. She said that they didn't understand that she can't be "perfect" all the time. Her "reward" for her grades was she would be allowed to stay in her dance school/classes. If she got any Bs, her parents were going to pull her out. That just seemed so ridiculous to me, but it was the reality for this kid. Why did they only reward a grade? What about the fact that they had an extremely bright, conscientious, pleasant, responsible child?

I think parents also feel the pressure to have their students be "all A" students because college is harder and harder to get into these days. Or perhaps some parents associate a grade with their parenting abilities or something-- I don't know.

The situation with my sad student taught me that school and home are deeply connected in our students' minds. If you don't hear from your son's teacher, email her next week and let her know he told you and that you were very proud of him for that. Ask her if she has any ways she acknowledges when kids do very well overall in their spelling--not just on the test.

It does also seem that his young age is probably what prevented him from having the best judgement about what to do!

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answers from Seattle on

<grinning> Well, he's already gotten your disappointment, & disapprobation, in addition to the punishment/humiliation in front of his friends he's already gotten at school...and will *perhaps* depending on the teacher & friends continue to get. Plus he has a punishment on the way.

I would personally reward the honesty in equal proportion to the punishment he's getting from cheating. Coldstone cones are HUGE, but *perhaps* splitting one of the kids cones with him AFTER he's been punished for cheating? Doing the whole guilt trip/standing outside the store, talking about how he would be getting an icecream cone if he hadn't cheated...and then talking about how much you value honesty, how much him being honest with you even though he knows he's losing a reward, and is going to be punished, shows how brave and kind you know he is, etc etc etc, and how no matter what he does wrong, if he's honest with you about it it will NEVER be as bad as if he hides it, or lies about it. That there is nothing wrong or bad enough TO lie or hide from you...and then take him in and split a super super small icecream as a reward for bavery in the face of adversity.

Yippee...2 whole lessons in one. Although, for me, the honesty is more important then the cheating. Cheating is never allowed. The standard though, in this culture, is for kids to lie/hide things from their parents. LOVE it when an opportunity to drive in the "tell me anything/talk to me about anything" presents itself with something concrete I can build that foundation on.

My perspective on this may be slightly different then other advice you'll be receiving. We homeschool... so the first time my son cheated on a test...I was THERE. I was the one (kind of obviously) who caught him. And because we homeschool, I found out the reasons *why* he did it, right then and there... with no filters or distractions to distort or make him forget his reasoning.

For my son it was in a couple of parts:

1) It's funny in cartoons/movies when people cheat ... and it really is. If you've ever watched them, either it's funny on purpose, or it's so overly dramatically bad that it becomes a farce, or it's so intense that the writers fairly immediately lighten the mood. So in part he was hoping for something interesting to happen.

2) Whenever *I* don't know something, I look it up. I have stacks and stacks of textbooks (college), books, and materials that I regularly go through to look up something that I've either forgotten, or to check my facts. I google questions. I go through my notes before and while teach, if I think I might be forgetting something. To my son it seemed like the smart thing to do. He was unsure, so he wanted to check and make sure he was right.

((I DO have to admit that this is fair. In school, and up to a certain level in college, our memories are tested. Once we reach a certain level in college, the tests become open book...and soooooo much harder... or are based upon your own time and research and skills at x,y,z, which is a level of hard unto itself. And in the workplace... if you don't know what something is, you'd better darn well look it up! Schools may be incredibly artificial, but they're still the standard, for many many years to come... & 90% of schooling (not education) is learning how to play the game. No it may not make sense, or be fair, or be the smartest way to do something... that doesn't mean that you get to make up your own rules in every circumstance. It also MAY make sense, be fair, and be smart. It's impossible to know without examining, questioning, and then examining the answers given... and then holding those questions and answers under the light of different circumstance. Nope. Rules don't always make sense. That DOESN'T mean that they're wrong. Whew. Try explaining all of that to a 6 year old.))

3) He wanted to see if he could.

Now.. all these parts only go together really in the mind of a 6 year old. I mean, seriously! It might be funny, & it's the smart thing to do, & see if he could??? Talk about some contradictory logic there. But that's why they're kids and in school. They're LEARNING. They're learning to think, and reason, and live, and even spell it. Their brains aren't done growing yet, and their minds are just starting to take off.

Your sons reasons are probably different (at least to a degree), but I'm willing to be that there's more then one reason... and that they're equally full of 6 year old logic. I always try to go gentle on that logic, and take each one seriously. I don't always succeed, but even in having reasons, they're showing the cognitive growth of their developing minds. Sooooo much easier to direct it NOW then when they were two. Harder lessons, certainly, then "No Hitting"...but much much much easier to redirect. :)

I don't think the pressure of a reward is "too much". I am far more inclined to reward good behavior as often as possible, then to punish for every bit of bad (not that my son thinks the same thing, I'm sure with me being me being "Mum! Dispenser of Time Outs and Punishments!!". ;) But, hey, he'll get it when he's older.

There are TONS of ways to reward good behavior and performance. If you're feeling unsure of your reward system, you might change it up a bit...with smaller rewards leading up tp a big reward over time. But that doesn't work with all kids. Some kids NEED the big reward at the end of the tunnel. Others do well with increasing levels of rewards for level of performance. What your kids respond best to, is something that you would be best qualified to know.

Good Luck

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answers from Portland on

I think you nailed it yourself in the last sentence--it was poor judgement. And probably nothing more--not a malicious attempt to game the system, or a even a response to performance pressure.

I agree with the other posters who question whether a first-grader even understands the full concept of cheating. I'm willing to bet that he was just experimenting out of curiousity. Adults always say don't cheat, so some kids must be doing it...why would they?

The reason I'm so sure is that I have always been one of those 100% spellers, but I have a very clear memory of attempting to cheat once, just to see what it was like. What was the appeal? What would happen? (Not even the feeling like--can I get away with this?) I put a spelling list on my knee (duh, but I was in 1st or 2nd grade) as we got started, even though I knew every darned word, but I figured I could use it to doublecheck at least. And sure enough I got caught.

The teacher announced to the class that I had cheated and automatically failed the test. When I jumped to my feet and protested that I didn't need to cheat, he said gently that it didn't matter whether I needed to or not, because I *had*. I got mad and challenged him to ask me any word on the test, all of them, I could spell them right out loud, he denied me the opportunity to prove myself. The undeniable fact was that I had cheated, period.

So I don't think your kid needs further punishment. I'm pretty sure he got the message. Cheating isn't worth it!

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answers from Seattle on

Wow, you're busy.
I wouldn't give him an additional punishment. This is a learning experience: he has already had enough of a consequence to learn the lesson. It might help to explain to him WHY he is learning these words in the first place, and therefore why cheating is counterproductive -- the whole point is to learn the words so you can communicate with other people and then you don't need to cheat, AND you will be able to get what you want as a grown up -- connect the actual purpose of learning to something he can relate to.
I also would not be giving rewards for spelling tests. Think where that is leading to -- what are you going to motivate him with as a teenager -- a car?
Also if he is not particularly interested in academics yet -- he's only 6! Maybe that is appropriate for him at his particular phase of development. Don't force him to conform to "the norm" every kid is different. Don't make academics his whole world. P.S. At my kids elementary school they only advocate 2 nights of homework a week for first graders. (1 for kindergarten, 3 for second grade, etc.) It is a high performing school. Don't get too caught up in school work. It is the most boring way to learn. LEARNING is good, but writing out spelling words is BORING -- maybe make a game of it. Sounds like your kid is really smart -- way too smart for rote memorization without knowing why -- he could save the world someday with some great invention so dont make learning torture!

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answers from Seattle on

Hi H.,

I am a middle school teacher and mother of a 2nd grader.

In first grade, my daughter started trying out deceptive behavior, and we really had to squelch it. She still tries from time to time, but then she "fesses up" quite quickly.

My opinion is this: I believe you are putting too much pressure on your first grader. Kids at this age are just beginning to write correctly, and I don't believe that kids should get a reward contingent on high scores. Maybe in the later grades (third and up)when academic skills are firmly in place. What they need is your support, and it seems as though you have provided this by helping him practice his spelling list and in discussing his "cheating" in a calm, diplomatic way.

Despite my training as a teacher and a counselor, I don't like behavior modification/reward systems. (I did resort to it for potty training, though!) I would focus on the honesty part first--why it's important, what it looks like--and help create a home environment where your child does not feel afraid to do the right thing. I have to stop myself sometimes and not create this sense of shame when my daughter is less than perfect; this will lead to lies out of fear.

I do from time to time develop a behavior modification plan for students who habitually demonstrate "bad" behavior; I use it as a last resort.

Good luck. I hope this helps.


P.S. I believe you already did the right thing by sending him to bed early and expressing your disappointment. Maybe a weekend without a playdate? I've used this before with my second grader for inappropriate behavior. Please consider eliminating this reward system for now, though.

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answers from Seattle on

Pressure, why are you rewarding him in the first place. Getting 100% or a few wrong should be reward enough. All he can see is that this is really important to you and do whatever it takes to get the prize. It is one thing to reward for grades as they get older but in first grade?

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answers from Seattle on

I am an ex-K-1 teacher and here is my advice.

I think the consequences of getting a zero on the test and being embarrassed about it are good enough. Things that happen at school should be handled by the teacher and principal. If they become so bad that they can't be handled, they will call you.....

I think the reward of ice cream is cool. Can you image how painful it will be to watch some one else eat ice cream and you can't? If the situation arises don't mention that he doesn't get the ice cream....maybe he should be left home? It would be easier on him. But don't dwell on it. He'll know why he doesn't get the ice cream. Stay calm. I do like the idea of having other ideas for rewards than food--like the dollar store.

But don't punish him on top of what the teacher did. Once is enough. Concentrate on rewarding positive behavior that naturally happens with words like "good job," I like what you are doing," "wow, you did that in school," etc...

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answers from Seattle on

Hi H.,

Aren't kids just full of surprises?

Since your son is only in the 1st grade do you think it is possible that he didn't understand that what he did was wrong?

My kids are all grown now, but I talked with them a lot, so if I had encountered this situation, I would sit down discuss the whole topic with him.

I'd ask him if he knows it was wrong to cheat and ask him why it is wrong. If he says he doesn't understand why it is wrong I would explain it. I'd ask him why he did it and explain that although in most situations when he doesn't know something it is good thing to look for answers - just not during a test.

I'd also explain the reason for tests and how important it is to try as hard as you can to make your brain strong by learning and remembering things that are taught in school.

I was never big on the whole idea of "punishment" when my kids made mistakes. I don't think I ever even used the word "punishment" since it has such a negative connotation.

It is normal for children to make mistakes and I believe they learn to make better choices if they have to deal with the natural consequences of those mistakes rather than me arbitrarily dispensing some "punishment" that has nothing to do with the mistake they made.

Your son already has experienced several consequences from cheating on the spelling test. He failed the test, he suffered the humiliation of his teacher talking with him about it and your disapproval and disappointment, too. I would point out all of these things to him when you talk with him.

Since you did promise there would be "punishment", I would suggest the following consequences. By cheating he didn't show that he learned those spelling words. So he still needs to prove that he knows them. Have him practice that list of spelling words and keep repeating the test at home until he knows every one.

The other consequence (after explaining that it is his teacher's job to help him learn) is to ask him if he thinks maybe he owes his teacher an apology for cheating instead of trying to learn his spelling words when she works so hard every day to try to help him learn.

So he needs to write a note of apology to his teacher during a time that would normally be his "free time" to watch TV or play video games, etc.

If he has trouble spelling some of the words he would like to use in the note to his teacher it's a bonus! That will help him to understand the consequences of cheating instead of learning and remembering his spelling words. If he continues to cheat he won't know how to spell any of the words he wants to use when he needs them!

I also didn't like to dangle pre-planned treats or rewards for my children to do well in school. We always celebrated achievements or goals met, but it was never pre-planned.

For example when report cards came home and everyone did well, I'd congratulate and talk with each one privately (in case someone had a less than stellar grade in something) and then I'd say something like - Wow! You guys worked so hard this quarter and had such awesome report cards - we need to celebrate! How would you like to go to the zoo this Saturday? (or some other favorite destination or activity).

I hope this helps - it is so difficult being a parent! Remeber that someday this will be a hilarious story to tell and your son will probably NEVER forget how to spell the spelling words that were on this test as long as he lives!

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answers from Seattle on

Taking from the Love and Logic mind set I would say that it is better he learn the lesson now then when he is in high school and it really matters. He needs to learn that cheating is not ok. you may want to call the teacher and set up an appointment to see if this is a pattern or a one time thing. As far as rewards for good grades I'm not sure. I think it's more important that they do their best. He may be looking at the reward instead of the process of learning how to spell. I would give him praise rather than an ice cream for a good grade. Maybe at the end of the year when he has done his best all year then he gets the reward of an ice cream outing for completing 1st grade. YOu will have to sit down with your husband and figure out the appropriate discipline. Usually taking something away works best. good luck.

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answers from Seattle on

I bet your son really didn't understand the nature of what he was doing and was exactly what you said, poor judgement. I think he was just trying something and it sounds like he learned there are consequences to his actions. Although I believe it is your responsibility to talk with him about it and explain why it is not appropriate, I think the teacher should dole out the correct punishment, which a zero on the test and probably speaking to him seems quite appropriate.
He admitted his wrong doing and will most likely learn from this. I'd say take further action if the behavior continues, but what is done is done for now.
I think it is fine to reward children for good grades, but I wouldn't make it a weekly event and only with a perfect score.



answers from Seattle on

H., you have a lot on your hands, and you're doing a great job.

Be glad your little boy got caught. He'll remember this incident, especially if he was embarrassed. He also was sent to bed early.

If you think he needs to do something more, I suggest the following:
Have him draw a picture of what he did wrong. Then have him draw a picture of the right thing to do.

In this way, his consequence makes sense because it fits his behavior. You'll also know he understands the right thing to do.

Best Wishes,

J. Tracy, MSS


answers from Richland on

See if you can have a meeting with the principal and the teacher together. My understanding is that kids as young as your son don't fully understand what cheating is. Unless the teacher or another adult he trusts told the kids that looking at the list during the test is wrong, he isn't going to come up with the idea on his own. I think it was good of you to tell him that he did the right thing when he told you the truth. Now you need to make sure he understands why he got the zero. Explain cheating and why it is wrong.



answers from Seattle on

Each child has their strength, and spelling may not be one of them.
I have 5 kids, and I have 2 that get 100% on each test. The rest range from missing most to missing one or two.

As for your son, I would be very happy that he told the truth. I think you already have the discipline, he does not get a treat.
I would discourage you from using food as a reward every week. We give things like a family game, or go to the dollar store and pick up a few items and put them in a box to chose from.
I also add up the things and make levels. Kinda like a checking account. We have levels of things they can accomplish where a "date" night might with parent of choice be at the top. Or a sleep over. You know your kids.
They can also turn in points for littler things. I can also take points away if they get into trouble. Such as cheating on a test.
I keep it on a chart, and keep track with stickers.

Let him know what the natural consequences are. Such as he will not be trusted by the teacher when taking tests. Let him know that you have been disappointed, and let him know WHY. I remember my mom would tell me things like "dont talk back" and I never understood what talking back was.

Good luck



answers from Portland on

I am wondering if he is the type to do well in practice sessions, but gets nervous on tests and fears he won't do well. Or maybe he didn't fully understand that you are not supposed to use any previous work to complete the test? It seems that if he was purposely cheating, he may not have been truthful about it when he got home. I personally am not a fan of extrinsic rewards to do well academically. Childhood is a great time to be able to accomplish things that reward intrinsically. There will be many times later in life when you will have to do things for external rewards in jobs and relationships and such. Good luck!



answers from Medford on

I don't think offering a reward for good grades is putting too much pressure on him and I personally think you handled it just fine.
You acknowledged that he told you the truth when asked while at the same time sticking to a punishment for his behavior. I think it's awesome that he told you about his zero rather than having to hear it from the teacher. For that you should be proud...My son wouldn't utter a word until I got a letter from school LOL
You might need to reiterate that the 100% must come from his efforts and not cheating.
Anyway, aside from what you've already done you might want to speak to the teacher and get to the bottom of it and when/if she backs up his story that he cheated have him go in and apologize to her and have him retake the test.
He needs to know you are disappointed that he felt he needed to cheat to gain approval but that you are also proud of him for being brave enough to tell the truth.
Sounds like a good kid :-)



answers from Portland on

I would agree that you are putting to much pressure on him and so is the teacher. The goal is to learn how to spell and at this age it should be fun and not stressful! I wouldn't reward him with ice cream each time as this puts added pressure. If he is working hard and behaving in school and home than occasionally reward him with the treat! As a consequence I would take something special away for a limited time.



answers from Seattle on

I taught first grade and can understand the pressure kids feel to perform even at this young of an age. It is great that your son told you the truth and it sounds like he is truly sorry for cheating. I think that having a discussion with him about why cheating is not okay, explaining that the point of the test is to find out what he has learned and what he still needs to work on learning. I personally don't think any further punishment is necessary. What is more important than the cheating was him being honest with you when he did cheat. If he truly feels bad, he's learned his lesson and won't cheat again. If he does cheat again, then I think a harsher punishment is in order.

As far as his teacher, she should have gotten in touch with you yesterday. Perhaps she has already worked out some sort of discipline for him in the classroom due to his cheating. I would contact her and find out what happened from her and how you can work together to prevent it in the future. Perhaps meet with her and have your son attend the meeting? You had asked if giving out awards for 100% is putting too much pressure on your kids. I personally don't agree with rewarding good grades. I think it does set kids up to think that 100% is the only acceptable option, rather than trying their best. Celebrating accomplishments is great, but setting up an incentive plan can backfire.

I hope everything works out.



answers from Eugene on

How sad that a first grader felt that he had to cheat on a spelling test. I am very glad though that he admitted it to you right away. He has to learn right now that cheating is not acceptable and that it will not benefit him to do that at any time. It sounds to me like you handled the situation quite well. If was you I think I would call the teacher about the situation and see what she has already done about it herself then use that as guide as to how to punish him further. It may be that the humiliation that he is already feeling may be enough punishment for now. If he repeats the behavior then you may have to do more.

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