Sunday, September 30, 2012

Effort v Quality

This piece was in response to a discussion question at school

Effort v. Quality

Yoda says, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try”. Putting that quote in the context of assignments completed by students for educational purposes, one could argue that quality holds more importance than effort. “Aw, I tried” is hardly an argument of achievement. People don’t want to hear from President Barack Obama that he gave his best effort; they want to see results, quality results. The same should be expected of our students.

I read an opinion piece the other week that stated the downfall of the younger generation is the expectation of adulation, the stickers and praise for every attempt at a deed, not just its completion. The result in this way of thinking is seen in the kinesiology major, Jason Greenwood, mentioned in the New York Times article, “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes” by Max Roosevelt:  “…putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade.” He goes on to argue that effort is what really matters. But this leaves the question: what is effort without (quality) results?

Does Effort Count

Sure effort counts in the consideration of a grade for an assignment. It has to. A quality assignment is the direct result of effort. Even while there may be people more naturally talented at some things than others, there still has to be effort somewhere—maybe in the cultivation of that talent, if not directly for that assignment. Barring a learning obstacle such as a mental or physical disability (or a very unethical teacher), it is next to impossible that “maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind” as asserted by the very same student mentioned above, especially given that what he deemed to be exceptional, “goes to every class and reads every chapter”, is really just what is expected. I mean, is that not outlined on the syllabus? An A is given for the exceptional, a C for the average.

Now, there has been a time when I had a student who was teetering on the edge of a better grade, i.e. a 3.48, and, given her output in discussions, the quality of her work (except one or two assignments out of many), and her preparedness and attitude in class, I added a class discussion grade solely for the purpose of bumping her up. In this instance, her quality of work was still high, just not impeccable on an assignment or two. That warranted me taking her effort into account.

Get v. Earned

Granted, if the abovementioned student is, also, passing assessments with grades in the upper level of the grading scale, then that student has earned the A as opposed to just being given an A. Again, this is an illustration of effort directly affecting quality output. And it is indisputable. There is no subjectivity in the grading at that point; the professor isn’t cajoled by the beads of sweat dotting a student’s forehead. That grade is honestly earned.

This question of “get versus earned” is one that bothers me because I have students who tell me I “gave” them a certain grade when it is, indeed, the grade their work deserved/earned. That grade is payment for the work given in the educational bartering system.

My philosophy of learning

Honestly, I never gave much thought to whether or not I had a philosophy of learning. I just learned and I feel like almost anyone is capable of learning. I guess you could say that thought emerged thanks to one of my high school classmates, a girl who was completely blind and who read all of her books by braille. This girl was in my Advanced Placement classes and graduated in the top 10% with me (actually higher than me because she was a good student; I was not). She, also, was accepted and attended the same prestigious university I attended, the University of Miami. That she was gifted with a pure and crystal-clear singing voice (I was not) was just icing on top of an already-generously iced cake.

I wasn’t aware of it then but she taught me something about imagined limitations. And when I look around, I see the results of this invisible bondage—people shackled by their dreams deferred, imprisoned by the mere act of settling and their minimally-paying hourly jobs. I suppose, my philosophy of learning is, also, that education is simply the key to unlocking doors, which stand otherwise shut. So I push and push those around me to go back for their education, even if it means incurring a small amount of debt. There’s no point to dreaming if you refuse to take action when you’re awake.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Radical Teacher on the Loose

I wish I could do as my action research capstone project  along the lines of "the fight against standardized testing and the dumbing down of america's youth". I realize, I really am a radical in this thing called teaching. Today, when we talked about static and dynamic characters, I brought it all the way down to my 9th graders level of understanding-- I dragged in the fish movie. That's right, FINDING NEMO. :) I also managed to bring them closer to the surface of my thinking. By the time we were finished with that movie, they realized that story is just as deep as the Big Blue and has just as many surprises too. I'm finding that the harder these politicians and public education killers fight to strangle creativity of thought, the harder I fight back. Oh, I read the assigned stories and I talk about the skill that's there but I don't leave it as just that story. I drag in allusions to all the other stories read so far, having the kids make connections across the board. I fill their head with movies and news stories that match what I'm talking about. I haven't written a lesson plan since 2005-- yes, the year I began teaching because I realized that shyt doesn't vibe with who I am. Planning sucks the life out of living. Thank goodness for pre-made pacing guides.