Some of my kids recently complained bitterly about the grades they've been receiving on their journal responses. After showing them a sample "10" response (out of 10), I had them brainstorm and discuss the "above and beyond" aspects of the sample - essentially, I asked them to tell me why it's a 10. While they did start by doing what I'd asked, they eventually devolved into excuses, and that bothered me.
One girl explained that she "just doesn't think that fast," so in the time we have to work on journals in class, she can't write as much as others because it takes her a while to get her thoughts in order. I think this girl is quite smart, but to my ears, it sounded like she was trying to say she deserves a better score because she's not as smart as some other people - like she was saying, "I'm dumb, so I deserve special treatment." First, that argument is ridiculous, and second, she's not dumb at all.
Another girl argued that the only difference she saw between her journals and the sample was in the vocabulary. The sample, she complained, "used bigger words," but that's all. "So what," she said, "am I supposed to go memorize the dictionary to get a better grade?"
But the argument that got me the most was this one: "I am doing the best that I can and I'm still getting 8's. It's like putting in all my effort isn't good enough."
Uh... I'm sorry - WTF?
Oh, let me guess: Were you all on sports teams as children where they didn't keep score and gave everyone a trophy so that no one would have to feel that they "lost" the game? Were you all given blue ribbons at every science fair just for participating? Were you all told your whole lives long how amazing and special you are, and how you're perfect just the way you are?
I'm all for self-esteem and all. I mean, it's important to let kids explore the world without fearing failure. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't ever experience failure. It just means they need to be taught how to deal with it properly. Part of that means learning that sometimes, putting in 100% of their effort WON'T BE ENOUGH - it won't be enough to win the game, it won't be enough to woo the girl, it won't be enough to get the A. Maybe putting in 100% of their effort means they produce B-level work and get B's.
I'm not sure where these kids got the idea that they should be graded on the effort they put into their work, but the fact is that I can't grade their effort. I don't know how to assess effort. How do I know how hard someone is or is not trying on this essay? How do I know how much attention they're paying to their reading? How do I know how much thought they're putting into their projects? All I can reasonably grade is the product each student gives me. If they tried their hardest and they earn B's, they should feel proud that they worked as hard as they could and earned an above-average grade for that.
Am I wrong?