Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Effort to Succeed

In the post before this one, I wrote about the low percentage of students at my school that enter a four year university or two year college. And a while back, I wrote about Grades vs. Understanding. My thoughts on how I grade are set.
I have to be careful because students do wander over to read what I write. And if they were so inclined, they will find many mistakes within my writing that I would circle, underline, or generally remark on. But more importantly, I must be cautious because students find a way to take what I write here and take it personally. It is the negative of not writing under a pseudonym.
After returning from a few days of mid-winter break in warm and sunny San Diego, I had a conversation with two students regarding my grading policy. Both students are bright and should experience success in their futures. One of the students had written in a post on the class blog that hard work deserves a high grade. A B+ just doesn't cut it because of the effort that had gone along with writing the essay. Hmm.
Jaded teachers, someone I feel I am becoming, might lash out at the student. I was tempted to be angry by the challenge to my grading system; it has happened too often this year. Maybe it was the California sun that tempered my response--and my thoughts for that matter. I felt compelled to explain why grades don't reflect effort. I can't say I did a very good job of it, though.
The harsh reality that we must face in education is that we have produced a cohort of students who actually equate grades with effort. It wasn't narcissism that led my student to complain; it was years of indoctrination by a system that promotes socially and allows student self-esteem to dominate over student achievement. I'm afraid we haven't done a good enough job teaching critical thinking and anaylsis. Because to judge the thought process of an individual might hurt their self-esteem. We wouldn't want a student to feel dumb.
Notice the emphasis on feel? To feel, in connection with the emotional sense, is a linking verb. One that links the subject to the subject complement. So what, you might ask? When we write sentences, the first three types of sentences involve be verbs. Those are verbs that express a "state of existence." A fact, if you will. But a linking verb in the form of to feel dumb, does not equate to a "state of existence," or actuallity.
Ultimately, what I would rather a student challenge is not my grading policy, but whether or not I've done an adequate job of teaching them how to think critically and put those thoughts into an essay. I don't know that I've done that well.
For instance, in this unit on expository writing, I have given them a broad topic--childhood. I have offered them numerous essays and memoirs on childhood to create ideas, to spark thoughts. We have discussed ideas. I have asked questions, challenged existing beliefs. Maybe I just haven't done a good enough job of eliciting the type of thinking necessary to write an essay that defines or explains childhood.
What it comes down to is we need to change. Our system needs to teach critical thinking without hiding the sometimes harsh truths from our students. No, not every student can think as well as the student next to them. Believe me, I know from experience!


At 4:44 PM , Blogger Dan Edwards said...

I read somewhere that the more we sanitize things for our students, the less they are prepared for the crap life will throw at them.

effort = grade......yep, lots of this from the self-esteem at any cost philosphers. Those in the "know" know that self-esteem comes with producing a quality product/outcome.

We once had a principal who tried to convince the teachers of my school that a grade of 50% should be awarded for any assignment that a student did not turn in. According to her logic, 50% is still an "F" grade. And as the teachers noted, a 50% might indicate that something was actually turned in. Nope, a zero is the grade for failure to produce.

A trip to San Diego eh. Not far from me....

At 6:39 PM , Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ha. Polski, I know that principal. And he's full of beans.

And I get the same thing all the time. I was here every day! Why don't I have a B?

More to come on this later.

At 8:29 AM , Blogger teachalbert said...

Thank you for being a voice of reason in an ever chaotic world of "feel good." As a student I always appreciated the grades I earned- not those which were given to me. It is a shame that we have, however wll-intentioned, mislead our students into believing that effort= outcome (or the grade). I wouldn't want my mechanic to assume that his or her effort was enough, and return to me a vechicle not in the best working condition. It would never be good enough for my surgeon to conclude a procedure as he or she had put in some great effort. What is the standard for an "A?" As a high school teacher, I too know that you are absolutely correct- and the kids know it, too. Thank you for reminding me that my job- my responsibility- is to teach students to be more than "I tried, so that's good enough."

At 8:33 AM , Blogger teachalbert said...

Oops... should have proofread my comment... misled*


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