Friday, November 17, 2017

Effort is the Expectation, Not the Exception

Many people want to say something along the lines of, "I tried really hard", or "A for effort", or "I but my best effort forward".
I can't tell you how many times I have heard that from students, parents, colleagues, etc. over the years. And you know what? I get it.
I know from personal experience that sometimes this whole art thing is challenging. It might be the media, technique, content, whatever. Sometimes it's just the day - because we all know that some days are better than others.

But there are some problems with all of the above. First, I think there is the relative aspect we all need to consider.

What do I mean by that? Well, the easy part is what do you think should happen if you come in and I introduce something new to you and you try hard on it and you do a completely mediocre job on the creation of your piece? At the same time, what should happen if someone is sitting next to you, whether they have used that media before or not, and it just come naturally to them?
Should the first student get an A and the next student get a lower grade? Even if the second student has a project that looks better?

Yikes. Tough one, right?

Second, if I ask you to tear down a wall and you show up with a pocket knife, how much effort do you think that will take? Probably a lot. You might be working really really (REALLY) hard and it just doesn't work out very well, or very easy,  for you.
Do you think it would be easier if someone showed up with a sledgehammer?
Do you think that person would have to put more or less effort in than the person with a pocket knife? Is it the tool or the effort or the preparedness???

So what does effort even mean?

Would you walk in to your History class and argue over a grade on a test or essay because you did (what you feel is) poorly (and let's think about poorly being a C or lower in this case) and say that you should get an "A" because you tried really hard?
Would you understand if your teacher looked at you and said something to the effect of, "It may be true that you tried really hard, but you still answered the questions incorrectly. Why do you deserve an A if you answered so many incorrectly?"

What about if that happened in your Math class?

So why does this equivalent happen all the time in Art?

I want you all to know that there is nobody in this school, or likely community, that values the true effort that you put forth for this class as I do. I make art myself, and I have my own personal struggles with different techniques and media and content. I know what it's like to begin something that seems like a great idea and/or I am excited about, and an hour later to put down a mark that makes me instantly dislike the entire thing.

It's frustrating. In truth, it sorta just sucks. Nobody likes that feeling.
But we have to get over it. We have to push on. We can't wait for the conditions to be just right or for inspiration to flash or for everything to be perfect in order to accept the work we do. We just have to show up and do it. We just have to deal with the frustrations and conscientiously move forward.

As you know, I have been having you do quite a bit of self assessment so far this year. I have been doing quite a bit of asking you what you think you have earned on the projects.
Many times I have had to read something along the lines of "I worked really hard."

Honestly, though, why should that be a determiner of the grade?

I need you to be able to explain how that hard work has manifested itself. I need to know that you understand the learning objectives of the assignment and you are able to articulate how you have either met those learning objectives or made progress towards them.
We all have progress to make. I do not need you to be perfect. I know I am not perfect (and I'm pretty sure you would agree with me on that one).
I want you to be able to show evidence of the growth and learning you are making. You may not reach your goal(s) this week, but if you are putting forth that effort, you will be showing the growth.

As we move forward, think about your "effort" less and your understanding more. Yes, you should be putting forth a significant effort. Why wouldn't you? That is just the right thing to do.
Putting forth effort should be a given.

Effort is the expectation, not the exception (that should be rewarded).

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