Thoughts on effort vs. performance

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a student regarding her grade in another class.  It illustrates the mindset that I am trying to change as I move towards more performance based assessments.  More on my assessment ideas and goals later.  For now, here’s how the conversation went:

Student: Ah! I can’t believe the teacher is giving me a C in art for this quarter.  It’s not fair.

Me: Are you good at art?

Student: Well . . . no.

Me: Then why should you get a good grade?

Student: Because I try hard.

I forget exactly how the rest of the conversation went, but I’m pretty sure I did not convince her that a “C” is fair if she is not able to perform well in art.  I have two problems with her comments.  First, why should effort alone result in a good grade?  Hard work is important.  It’s what guides students to the necessary abilities to perform and succeed.  As teachers, we should motivate students to work hard.  But why should that be part of assessment of them?  We should assess their abilities.  What can they do?

My second issue is with the definition of “trying hard”.  Often, students (and sometimes teachers) have a skewed view of what “trying hard” is.  Doing required assignments is not trying hard.  Being in class is not trying hard.  In my mind, genuine effort to improve involves going beyond minimum requirements.  It is complete engagement in class and seeking extra opportunities for input and practice outside of class.  For Spanish, it is reading outside of class, reading aloud to improve flow, finding opportunities to speak with        native speakers, extra vocabulary or grammar work.

And the result of genuine “trying hard” is almost always improved abilities.  Improved performance.

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