Getting the Grade: A Gift in Itself

by Sherese Mitchell, Ed.D.
Chair, Education Department
Imagine an empty box before you-what’s inside? NOTHING-this is the image I present to students at the onset of the semester.  A beautifully wrapped box with a shiny letter “A” does not magically appear for students. It is not something I personally wrap and deliver on the last day of classes. Actually, the opposite is true. Students begin courses with a plain cardboard box. This box can be decorated in any way they choose. Students can wrap it beautifully by arriving on time and presenting assignments to the best of their ability. That effort contributes to the overall package they take away when they leave the course.
Even though the image of a box is metaphorical, it is an object I actually bring to class on the first day. I introduce myself and then display a nice shiny opened purple box. I ask students “What’s inside?” Students confidently respond, “Nothing.” Then I open the discussion by asking, “What can you bring to the course? What can you put inside this box? This is your course.” There is usually

several moments of silence followed by specific responses that I was actually seeking. Students have made statements like, “My experience, knowledge, questions, etc.” Someone eventually mentions skills which identify their accountability in the course. This is excellent because the responses come directly from students as opposed to me lecturing about what’s necessary to be successful in the course. Students value their peers’ experiences and are constantly seeking concrete actions they can try to do well. It is as at that moment that I seize the opportunity to lead into what students can utilize to fill their box.
Here are some items that students can fill their box with to succeed in the course:
Remaining on Task
Positive Attitude
Being Prepared
Asking Questions to Clarify Uncertainties
Being Accountable
Assisting Peers
Best Effort Towards Assignments
At the conclusion of our discussion, students can see a list that we constructed together which serves as a tool for their success in the course. The question, “How can I do well in the course?” is already answered on the first day of the course. In the event that students start to falter during the course, they can simply be reminded by turning to the first page in their notebook where they recorded this list.
Encouraging the success of students at all points of the semester-the beginning, middle and even nearly the end is something that I always do. This is because I want them to understand that it is not about how they start, but how they finish. Finishing strong and being aware of what they “put into” the course is something that has assisted the success of many students that I have had the pleasure to teach during my time at Hostos.
Showing them their part and holding them accountable, while helping them believe they have the potential to accomplish what they put effort towards is not always easy. Yet, instilling even a small fraction of encouragement can and has gone a long way!

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