Monday, March 23, 2015

Did you do your best on this?

I have heard teachers ask this question numerous times through the years.  I have asked it myself.  Recently, I have really started to pay attention to this one.  It is quite interesting!  On the surface, it seems like it could be a good question.  A seemingly simply, non-judgmental query for a kid to self-assess effort.  But the reality of the question is usually far from that.

Little Johnny regularly takes twice as long to finish his assignments even though he spends the majority of time staring at the ceiling or talking to his friends.  His work typically does not show mastery of the learning target.  Then he hands the teacher his assignment and hears, "Is this your best effort?"

Little Johnny can see and hear his teacher's opinion in those words.  He knows she doesn't think he did his best so he answers, "No...," grabs the paper, and walks back to his desk as if he is going to do better.  Really though, it actually was Little Johnny's best effort.  He did the best he could with the tools he had available to him.

Little Jimmy hands his paper to the same teacher and hears the same question, "Did you do your best work on this?"

Little Jimmy replies emphatically, "Yep!"  Then he walks away, even though he knows he barely read through the questions and wrote incomplete thoughts for his answers.  In other words, Little Jimmy did as "best" as he was willing to do.  His willingness to to actually do his best was non-existent and his teacher knew it before even asking the question.

Little Janie hands her paper to the same teacher and hears, "Did you give 100% on this assignment?"

She takes a deep breath, looks down at the ground, and answers, "I guess not..."  She walks back to her desk, scratching her head and thinking to herself, "I always do my best!  I make straight A's!  What does she want from me???  Perfection???"

These different scenarios are just a few of examples I have seen.  Each different one is based these things:

  • the student/teacher relationship,
  • the student's past experiences,
  • the teacher's body language and tone of voice, and
  • the mindset of both of them.

How can we consistently ask kids to assess their efforts without prejudice?