Tag Archives: effort

Effort vs. Success

Long JumpThey are staring at me.  Wondering when I will give them some attention.  Waiting patiently for me to begin making colourful markings in green ink (my colour of choice for grading – much brighter and less harsh than traditional red ink).

They are a stack of reports sitting on a shelf.

Just like everyone else, professors can come up with many reasons and many ways to procrastinate.  Hey, I haven’t written a blog post in a while.  I better get on that today!

When it comes to grading, the one that gets me every time is the fact that I’m just not ready to face the disappointment.  Disappointment that some students didn’t do the work leading up to the testing point.  Disappointment that some students didn’t bother to ask questions when they were unclear about the material.  Disappointment that some students didn’t plan their time well leading up to the test/exam/paper.  And ultimately disappointment that some students simply didn’t understand that effort ≠ success.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some reports will be very well done.  Accurate calculations will be performed, insightful comments will be made and clear and concise writing will flow.

At some point I will take a deep breath, let out a big sigh, pick up my green pen and begin the work.

The grading will get done.  It always does.  But it doesn’t end there.

At least one student will visit me in my office after the report is returned.  Most often this student won’t ask for feedback (remember, there are lots of colourful marks on the paper) but will let me know that she just doesn’t understand her grade because she tried really hard.

What does “trying hard” mean anyway?  And what does “trying hard” have to do with success or a good grade?

The bottom line is that “trying hard” (whatever that means) doesn’t equal academic success.  Just because a student thinks she worked hard doesn’t mean she deserves an A.

How would you define “trying hard” anyway?

  • Does it mean doing what is required (and only what is required)?
  • Does it mean time spent on the task?
  • Does it mean being resourceful when problems arise (like asking questions, doing internet research, hiring a tutor, etc.)?
  • Or does it mean something else?

For the past number of years I have used an activity at the start of one particular course to help my students “recalibrate their excellence meters” (thanks to Keith Starcher for his article on this activity).  The activity forces the class to think about what success means and how it relates to “trying hard”.  Here’s what happens.

At some point during the normal introduction of the course I ask the class for volunteers to participate in a standing long jump competition.  I don’t actually teach phys. ed. by the way (I’m actually an accountant by training).  Most students look a little alarmed at first but then seem to warm up to the idea of doing something different.  I have at least six volunteers – three jumpers and three “coaches”, discuss their strategy for jumping the farthest before the competition begins.  Some teams decide that stretching first is a good idea.  Others decide that taking off their shoes will help them out.  Some take a few practice jumps and others take off heavy layers so they won’t be weighed down.

Then the competition begins.  There are usually lots of laughs and smiles.  I proceed to mark where the jumpers land and eventually send everyone back to their seats.  Instead of announcing the obvious winner I say something like “Although some students jumped farther than others, I believe that everyone put in a great effort.  Everyone tried hard so we will award a gold medal to everyone.  What do you think?”.

Most of the time the students protest this idea.  The one year this didn’t happen I was shocked but maybe more on that another time.  The discussion that follows is often about how success is defined in sports and then how that definition carries over to success in the classroom.  The class always reaches the conclusion that although everyone “tried hard”, clearly one student jumped the farthest and therefore is the winner.

I conclude this discussion by encouraging the class to focus on figuring out how to produce excellent RESULTS rather than being content with the illusion that so-called excellent EFFORT is enough.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_voors/775781834/”>Robert Voors</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Questions

It’s that time of the year again.  Midterm exams and midterm papers have been graded and returned.

What do you do if your result is not stellar?  And by not stellar I mean poor.  In some cases really poor.  Like you are seriously questioning if you are going to make it through the course with a passing grade poor.

Every year I speak to several students who share this same question. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.  And dropping a course can actually be a positive decision.

All institutions have an official “drop date” (check your institution’s academic calendar for details) for quarter, half and full term courses.  In most instances, if a student drops the course before said date, the course grade and attempt will not show on the student’s official transcript.  On the other hand, if a student continues in a course and ends up failing, this attempt (sometimes shown as “F” or sometimes with the actual number grade) will appear on the transcript.

Before you make your final decision, consider your honest answers to these six questions:

  1. How much effort did you put into the required coursework?  Did you attend class?  Do the readings?  Prepare the review questions?  Participate in the class seminars and discussions?  Seek clarity if you didn’t understand the content?  Etc.
  2. How well do you understand the content?  Do you actually get it but for some reason weren’t able to showcase your understanding through the testing vehicle or assigned paper?  Or do you really have no idea what is going on?
  3. What strategy were you using to learn the content?  Did you keep up with the weekly readings or did you try to cram eight weeks of reading into a 48 hour period?  Did you do the readings before class or after class or never?  Did you think about and document your personal responses to the assignment questions, review problems, cases, discussion questions, whatever, before class or did you just hope to absorb the content by osmosis?
  4. Is this a mandatory or optional course for you?  If it is a mandatory course for your program it is likely a prerequisite for future courses.  How will dropping this course impact the rest of your academic plan?  Will a poor grade impact your performance in future courses?  Should you retake the course at a time when you are ready to give it your all?  On the other hand, if it is an optional or elective course when will you be able to make up this course?  Will that be easy or difficult given your schedule?
  5. What is your grade potential in the course?  By grade potential, I mean what is your projected final grade?  Work out the math using the evaluation breakdown in your course syllabus.  Will it be enough?  Most programs require a minimum average to stay in the program and sometimes a minimum grade for core courses in the program.  Do you risk being removed from the program?
  6. Were there extraordinary circumstances that affected your performance?  For example, were you extremely sick with the flu the day before the exam?  Perhaps you really understood the content but your performance suffered because you were dehydrated, weak and perhaps a little nauseas.  Did you experience a substantial loss that would impact your mental state and therefore your performance?  Will these circumstances continue to affect your ability to perform or are they one-time events that you do not expect to impact you in the future?

Before you make your final decision I highly recommend making an appointment with an academic counsellor to get some answers to the questions above.  If you feel comfortable or if your professor has made it clear that she is willing to talk to students about this issue then by all means, make an appointment and discuss your concerns with her as well.

Dropping a course can free up valuable time for you to put more effort into other courses or to manage other issues in your life.  At the end of the day the decision to stay or go is personal and yours to make.

Do you have enough information to make your decision now?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/susyna/3643831785/”>susy ♥</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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