Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Fri, 30 Jul 1993

So many of us believe that the grade is an absolute indicator of achievement and a college degree is an absolute indicator of competency. Our idea of success is so hung up on performance. Let me try and make myself and my approach clear. First, I operate on the assumption that every one of my students is capable; they just have to dig to deeper levels within themselves to tap what's down there and use it. Second, my motto, my approach, my philosophy is: "effort more than performance." The students know that I value effort and incorporate it into my grading because I tell them that in the course syllabus and because I openly value it every day in and out of class. I don't measure success by how many words they speak in a discussion or how many minutes they talk, but by their attitudes or changing attitudes. I keep an eagle eye out for their effort. My eyes are forever and sensitively roaming. I am roaming all over the class rather than being glued to the podium at the front of the class. I watch their facial expressions, their body movements, their interactions with other members of their triads and the class, and their vocal tones. I encourage, support, and value the struggle to take a risk to overcome fear of failure. I always tell them that the will to achieve is non-existent without the courage to fail. I explain to them that learning to appreciate their mistakes, what we call "being wrong," is important to learning. I urge them to ask questions and develop a curiosity for everything instead of being a puppet dancing to the professor's manipulating and controlling strings. In short, character development is the foundation of my class.

Now I know what you're going to ask. Let me guess, "How can I evaluate effort? How can I put a grade on it?" My answer is simple: "Intuitively!" I ask of this student if he/she is doing all he/she can reasonably do to give it what he/she truly has? Is the student approaching his/her potential? I ask the students to evaluate themselves each week during the quarter and at the end of the quarter. I find those self-evaluations, with few exceptions, are amazingly similar to mine. The evaluation is subjective because there is no absolute scale by which to measure effort, improvement, the pursuit of excellence. Moreover, my evaluation is comparative, comparative to where the student was at the beginning of the class and where he/she is at the end of the class. That's why I believe that I must know my students and establish a bond of trust with them, connect with them, if you will. Hard work? You bet. Time consuming? Heck, yes. Worth it? Well, let me briefly tell you of a happening during this discussion about Andrew Carnegie. There is this one girl, a very, very shy "can't talk in front of others type" girl, who was scared to death to answer questions or enter any discussion in the class, and with whom I've had several conversations.

In this particular discussion, everyone was saying that Andrew Carnegie was moral because of his charitable deeds. Suddenly, I heard this voice interrupt and I turned my head. There she was. I could see her shaking, getting heat flashes, terror flashing in her eyes. I am not exaggerating. "I don't think he was such a good person since he hurt a lot of people getting his money." That was all she said during the class. That was enough. I knew what she had gone through to say those few words, and what she felt to have challenged herself. That she altered the tone of the class discussion was merely icing on the cake. She exerted a herculean effort to do something she had never done before and saw for an instant what potential lay within her. I gave her a rousing, "Excellent, Elizabeth! Who can add to that?" And her eyes lit up like lighthouse beacons. I turned back to her, winked my eye, and slightly nodded my head as I gave her a subtle thumbs up. I spoke to her after class to offer all the encouragement and support I could. "Don't lose the feeling of that moment," I told her. "Grasp it as tight as you can and build on it." She gets a higher evaluation in my book than a senior in my class who is doing only what he has to do to get a passing grade. His effort grade sucks!! So does his attitude. He'll be surprised at the end of the quarter because he doesn't believe the syllabus or me.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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