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.

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