Motivating Students: Should Effort Count?

Posted: 13/08/2014 by broadyesl in professors

Reblogged from:

Something for professors to ponder…


I’ve always said no, effort shouldn’t count. When students pleaded, “but I worked so hard,” or “I studied so long,” I would respond with the clichéd quip about people with brain tumors not wanting surgeons who try hard. Besides if students try hard, if they do their assignments, come to class, take notes, ask questions, and study on more nights than the one before the exam, that effort will pay off. They will learn the material, and their grades will reflect that learning.

That’s what I’ve always believed, but here’s what’s troubling me. Most students want to get grades with the least amount of effort. If they can get an A or B with an hour or two of studying once a week, or by doing nothing until the night before the exam or paper is due, that’s how much effort they’ll make. Unless students fall madly in love with the content, most won’t expend any more energy than they need to.

Then there are those students who aren’t well prepared for the rigors of college—the ones who need to exert a lot of effort—and who really don’t believe that effort will make a difference. They think learning is all about natural ability and maybe they just don’t have what it takes.

In both cases, the question is the same: how do we motivate students to put forth the effort—to go beyond the minimum in the first case, and to try, multiples times and in multiple ways, before concluding that effort is always trumped by ability in the second.
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  1. RLP says:

    Effort has no place in assessment. All that matters is what has been written.

    I will give you one example.

    A situation arose in class where assignments, and their grades were being returned to the students. The assignments were marked without knowing the name of the student.

    Once all of the papers had been returned, the lecturer asked if there were any questions. Students began to protest about their grades. The protests focussed one particular student. The lecturer was informed by the class that student had been drunk and only wrote the assignment the night before it was due and the class wanted to know why he ‘drunk Dan’ got a distinction for this “pissed paper”. The student himself then called out, “that’s true, sir, I was really pissed that night.”

    There was regales of laughter.

    The class then wanted to know how this “pissed” student could get a distinction when everyone else toiled for weeks and suffered to write their paper, and did not receive a distinction.

    The lecturer answered as follows:

    ‘Drunk Dan’ received a distinction because he answered the question; and he provided academic support and references for all of his opinions

    Effort has no place to play in any grade. It’s what you write that matters. Did you answer the question? Did you support all of what you said correctly with the correct academic referencing. Effort plays no role in assessment. What matters is what you write.

    You can complain and be jealous as much as you like of the “Pissed Pete paper” but he did the job and answered the question.

    It’s like being jealous of a sports star who always wins the 100 metre sprint or the marathon without any training. Your jealousy and envy matters nought, the fact is, without training this athlete is still crossing the finish line before anyone else. This athlete has answered the question! Whether he trained or not matters nought to the result. He won! That’s it bidda bing, bidda bang, bidda boom!

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