E for Effort

Despite what some of the trolls who come around here may think, I do not actually think everyone deserves a trophy.  I do not award A’s just for showing up to class, and I actually am a pretty tough grader.  That said, I believe that writing is a skill that requires substantial effort and practice, and I do not believe that the predominant grading paradigm does a good enough job of connecting effort and personal achievement.  As I’ve said before, students usually carry around the assumption that people get A’s on papers because they are “good writers,” and people get low C’s and D’s on papers because they are “bad writers,” while the space in between is populated by people who either believe they are good writers but the teacher just hates their style or that they are bad writers who just get lucky some times.

As Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack indicate, students attribute their success or failure at a particular task to one or some combination of four causes:  ability, effort, other people, and luck.

Three of these four beliefs ultimately inhibit achievement.  On the surface, a belief in ability seems relatively useful–if you believe you have ability, you can tackle anything.  Regardless of how much ability you think you have, however, there will inevitably be tasks for which you do not believe you have the requisite skill. […] Belief that other people are the primary cause of success also has drawbacks, particularly when an individual finds himself or herself alone.  Belief in luck has obvious disadvantages–what if your luck runs out? Belief in effort is clearly the most useful attribution.  If you believe that effort is the most important factor in achievement, you have a motivational tool that can apply to any situation.

I posted previously about a study that showed that children who are praised for ability alone are less likely to take risks and seek out challenges and more likely to collapse in the face of adversity than children who are praised for their hard work.  Marzano et. al. echo what Bronson and Merryman say about praise, but they also highlight the importance of teaching students about the relationship between personal achievement and effort.  While their techniques are aimed at (and are probably most likely to produce long term results with) young children, having students track effort and achievement in the college classroom seems like a relatively easy, efficient, and enormously beneficial way to reinforce the importance of effort.  Marzano et. al. recommend having students engage in periodic self-assessments, in which they grade themselves according to rubrics based on effort and achievement.  The effort one looks like this:

4–I worked on the task until it was completed.  I pushed myself to continue working on the task even when difficulties arose or a solution was not immediately evident.  I viewed difficulties that arose as opportunities to strengthen my understanding.

3–I worked on the task until it was completed.  I pushed myself to continue working on the task even when difficulties arose or a solution was no immediately evident.

2–I put some effort into the task, but I stopped working when difficulties arose.

1–I put very little effort into the task.

The achievement rubric (also on a 1-4 scale), looks like this:

4–I exceeded the objectives of the task or lesson.

3–I met the objectives of the task or lesson.

2–I met a few of the objectives of the task or lesson, but did not meet others.

1–I did not meet the objectives of the task or lesson.

The authors also stress the importance of having students set their own personal goals in the classroom, and even talks about a school that uses a “Personal Best” Honor Roll alongside its regular Honor Roll to recognize students who had met or exceeded their goals (established with the help of a teacher) for the semester along with the students who had earned high grades.  Next year, I plan to adapt these two methods to help my students set individual goals for the semester, predict the effort required to achieve those goals, and assess their progress throughout the semester.  Their first journal assignment for the semester will look like this:

–Being handout–

First Journal Entry

This assignment is designed to help you set goals for achievement and effort in this class.  The audience for your answers to the following questions are for you and you alone, so their is no need to try and come up with an answer you think I will like.

Achievement Goals–In a brief paragraph, describe what would need to happen in order for you to feel that you had experienced success in this class.  That could mean receiving a passing grade, getting an A, improving your writing according to some criteria that you define, or some other achievement measure that you come up with.

Effort Goals–In a few paragraphs, talk about what you will need to do in order to achieve those goals.  Try to be as specific as possible, though there are no strict guidelines for your answer.  You can talk about number of hours spent on each assignment, sticking to the recommended deadlines for first drafts, the number of revisions you will probably have to do to get the grade you desire, coming to office hours every other week, etc.

–End handout–

A few times during the semester (after the first paper is handed back, midterm, end of term, etc.), students would be asked to do self-assessments that refer back to these goals.

–Begin handout–

Self Assessment

The following assignment is designed to help you assess your progress in class thus far according to the objectives set by your instructor and the goals for effort and achievement that you described in your first journal entry.  For each item, circle the number next to the score that best describes your performance in class so far:

Achievement in the Course: score your performance in class based on the objectives described on the syllabus/on the assignment handouts.  You can factor in grades so far as you feel they reflect your performance at this point.

4–I have exceeded the objectives of the course.  I have kept up with the reading, turned in all assignments on a reasonable schedule, have completed at least one revision of a paper, and have been earning primarily A’s and B’s.

3–I have met the objectives of the course.  I have kept up with the reading, turned in most assignments on a reasonable schedule and have been earning primarily C’s and B’s.

2–I have met a few of the objectives of the course.  I have done some of the assigned readings, turned in some of the assignments whose deadlines have past and have earned at least a C.

1–I did not meet the objectives of the course.  I am behind on the reading and/or have not turned in any assignments.

Personal Achievement Goals: score your performance based on the “requirements for success” that you laid out in your first journal entry.  Ex.  If your goal was to get a B in the class, and you have earned B’s on all papers thus far, then you get a 3.

4–I am exceeding my personal goals for the semester.

3–I am meeting my personal goals for this semester

2–I have met some of my personal goals for this semester, but not others.

1–I have not met my personal goals for this semester.

Effort: Score your performance based on the effort goals you described on the first assignment.  If you aren’t sure how to score yourself, reference the longer descriptions that go along with each score.

4–I have exceeded my effort goals for this semester.  (I worked on each assignment until it was completed.  I pushed myself to continue working on the task even when difficulties arose, and I viewed those difficulties as opportunities to strengthen my understanding.  I sought help from my instructor or the writing center when I needed it.  I have turned in assignments according to the schedule that I, the student, established and have done the number of revisions I felt were necessary to exceed my personal achievement goals.)

3–I have met my effort goals for this semester.  (I worked on each assignment until it was completed.  I pushed myself to continue working even when difficulties arose.  I have turned in assignments according to the schedule I established and have done the number of revisions I felt were necessary to meet my personal achievement goals.)

2–I have met some of my effort goals for this semester.  (I put some effort into each assignment, but I stopped working when difficulties arose.  I have not been seeking help when I need it.  I have turned in some assignments on time, but still have some to complete.  I have not yet done the revisions I need to do in order to meet my personal achievement goals.)

1–I have not met my effort goals for this semester.  (I put little or no effort into each assignment. I have not been staying on schedule or seeking help in getting started.)

–End handout–

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