This post is primarily for my freshmen, but is a message I would urge all students to consider.
If I could create my own school, I might do away entirely with grades, but that’s not the school I teach in or the school you learn in. So perhaps it is not a waste of time to think about what an A means. I think I’d like to approach my definition from two sides.
What an A is not:
- Putting in the time, meaning that one sits in class 52 minutes a day, five days a week and breathes. An occasional nod of the head doesn’t add much value either.
- Any old thing written down on paper or typed as a blog post that happened to occur spontaneously without reflective or critical thought.
- A consistent disregard for the intent of an assignment (generally to be illuminated in the directions) due to the student’s own dynamism and creative intellect which far surpasses any crazy intentions the teacher may have had about quality or purpose.
- A lot of words. I love the line from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Audrey is supporting her dad. Her grandfather has complained that the little lights aren’t twinkling and Audrey says that her father “worked really hard” on the light display. The grandfather tells her that washing machines work hard, too. Working hard in itself isn’t a virtue if it doesn’t accomplish something. We can write a lot of words that don’t mean anything. We can write a lot of words that don’t express a point of view. Words, words, words. Make them mean something!
- Dishonesty. It is so obvious when students are trying to charm or schmooze their way to an A without investing anything real. Write what’s honest, not what’s clever or popular or even cynical. I’m looking for good critical thinking.
- Laziness. For example, a somewhat intelligent, reflective blog post is marred by the writer’s unwillingness to tend to the minute details of spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, etc.
What an A is:
- Learning is a journey that requires us to try and fail. We don’t always “get it” the first time or even second. If you don’t spend any time thinking about your work and figuring it out, it won’t probably be of any real value. Maybe the first thing you write down shouldn’t be the thing you turn it. An A is something you’ve polished and made better.
- Being secure enough in yourself to be honest, to actually engage in the learning process, when you push yourself and try to actually consider what things mean and write in your honest, sincere, personal voice about something you really care about.
- Putting forth extra effort, going one or two steps further instead of always settling for “eh, good enough.”
- Work that shows you understood the assignment, that you reviewed the directions, that you cared enough to give it your best.
I don’t think grades are the most important thing in school, but if we have to have them, then they have to mean something. They have to be based on something honest. So, if you didn’t get an A, it’s not that you’re not a nice person, you are. I don’t give grades based on personality or charm. And even if you handed your work in on time and you worked really hard on it, remember, you are not a washing machine. Maybe you didn’t get an A because your work fell short of A work. Maybe it simply wasn’t real enough or honest enough or maybe it really wasn’t any effort at all.