Tag Archives: trying hard

My Daughter Got a C

My daughter Abbey is a good student. Her teachers tell me that she gets her work done on time, is a respected role model in the classroom and demonstrates great work habits. By the way, Abbey is in Grade 3.

Last term she came home with a math test in her blue assessment folder for me to review and sign off on (like it’s some kind of legal contract or something). I was shocked to discover that Abbey got a C on this particular math assessment. She knew when the test was scheduled and had spent time reviewing the content the two evenings beforehand without issue. Abbey usually gets A’s in math and has never scored lower than a B on any assessment or report card so I was a little taken aback with this result.

I could feel Abbey’s eyes on me as I opened the blue folder. She’s mature enough to understand the difference between an A and a C grade and she knows her dad and I expect good results. Our eyes only met for a moment before hers dropped.

“What happened?”, I asked.

“I don’t know”, she answered.

Sad

Abbey’s experience is no different than the experience of scores other students since the beginning of time. Abbey is not the first, and will not be the last, to be disappointed in a test result.

As a parent (and a teacher), I knew that this uncomfortable situation provided the basis for a great learning moment. I wanted my daughter to know that disappointments, mistakes, oversights and boo boos happen all the time but it’s ok under one condition:

YOU LEARN SOMETHING.

The great part about this experience is not only did my daughter takeaway some great lessons, I was reminded of what students go through when they receive a less than desirable grade.

Abbey learned:

  1.  It’s ok to feel crummy when you don’t perform to your potential. Go ahead and have your pity party, feel bad for a bit and then let it go (she loved me belting out the hit Frozen tune).
  2. It’s just one test in a series of tests that you will take over the rest of your life. Yes, it matters, but there will be loads opportunities to showcase your brilliance.
  3. Take time to figure out what happened. Did you perform poorly because you didn’t have the time or take the time to learn the content? Maybe it was because you didn’t manage your time wisely during the actual test. In Abbey’s case, she didn’t read the questions carefully or ask the teacher for clarification when needed.

 I learned:

  1. My students really do feel crummy when they get a bad grade. It hurts even worse when they know they could have done better.
  2. It takes time to rebound. I shouldn’t expect my students to spring into my next class all bright and eager when they’re just not there yet.
  3. It might take someone, ahemmmm, me, to help my students put it all in perspective and remind them that the point of this educational experience is to learn content, process, resilience, self-awareness, study skills, self-reflection, listening, writing, communication, and on and on.

Life, and school, would be pretty boring if we had all the answers all the time.  According to Richard Branson “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Go on now and pick up some band aids.

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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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