Saturday, December 4, 2010

The A for Effort Turns out to be Bullshit.

Hey, so you know how our students are always giving us that excuse when their assignments suck, that they "tried really hard"? Tons of you have posted about this snowflake dilemma before, about how, because their previous education has been all about their self of steam, that they don't really comprehend (or pretend they don't) quality of work, and so on.

Well, I did a little experiment this semester, where a small portion of thgrade for a class was essentially an "effort" assignment. I had groups of students, and they had to design a basket-weaving process, and try the process out, and then depending on how it was going, make some modifications, and then, in the end, write a report.

I wasn't judging them on the finished baskets, so much as on what they learned from the experience, and how they explained what they learned in a report. Yes, it was a gimme assignment, but this is Basket Weaving for Gen Ed, so one's standards can't be that high.

Guess what happened? You will be totes shocked.

A bunch of groups did great, designing new baskets; others tried and failed, but learned stuff like "you can't make baskets out of live cats", which showed that failure is also a learning opportunity. However, there were a few who basically found like 3 strips of rafia, flung them on the floor, and then wrote "we chucked some rafia on the floor, but nothing happened."

This was all very interesting to me. What I learned was that in some cases, "we tried really hard" is just a total and utter lie. I had suspected it before, but this is the first time I have had solid evidence. The other amusing thing is that 2 of the groups have now written over 10 times the word limit in emails complaining about their grades than they did on the initial assignment. Which I guess shows that they are "trying really hard" but in all the wrong directions.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A line I have used in the past, to decent effect, is:

    If you had spent as much time on the original assignment as you have challenging your grade, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

    It shuts down all but the most oblivious and shameless grubbers.

  3. "Self of steam," heh heh, I like it!

  4. Thanks for posting this...sometimes I have "meta-moments" with my students where I comment explicitly on the process of my teaching and their learning. Can I have your permission to share this with a future class?

  5. I think they sometimes confuse "tried really hard" with "spent a lot of time stressing out and complaining about this project to my roommate, boy/girlfriend, mom, hamster, etc." It's an understandable sort of confusion -- I've experienced it myself -- but stressing/complaining =/= "trying hard."

    Archie, I really like your line, and may someday, if I'm brave enough, steal it.

  6. I'm genuinely surprised that we haven't all used Archie's line. Seriously? I use it all the time. I thought everyone did.

  7. Please translate: "You will be totes shocked."

  8. Now you know one of the advantages of only grading on deliverables!

  9. "You will be totes shocked."
    Translated: "You will be totally schocked"
    WhatLadder is obvioously a fan of "The Hangover". =)

  10. Or a fan of "Saved by the Bell."

    Fun aside. Some of my Intro to Basketweaving students told me they "grew up" watching "Saved by the Bell" and "Full House." I died a little inside.

  11. Actually, I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with both of these things, although I have heard of people who have heard of "Saved by the Bell". My secret is I hang out a lot on this place called the internets, where I communicate with yoofs, and to a lesser extent, people of maturer generations, and being lexicographically unchaste, I am corrupted by their slang.

  12. Ok, I have a question...

    "Some of my Intro to Basketweaving students told me they "grew up" watching "Saved by the Bell" and "Full House." I died a little inside."

    These are old shows for 14 year olds. I know this because I watched them when I was 14. I'm 36. How young are you actually expecting your students to be? And why would anyone watch these shows in any phase other than "growing up"?

  13. I had a student in my office when I saw "self of steam." I had to stifle a laugh out loud (slol?)

    Heh heh heh. Self of steam.

  14. Love this! I always tell my students if I have to spend more time grading their work than they spent actually doing it, their grade will reflect it b.c I will be pissed off. Does this work? Not really...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.