Connecting Student Effort to Achievement

I tried something new this week. It’s getting down to last few weeks of the semester. I have an depressingly high percentage of students who are failing my classes, especially Web design. I’m brainstorming like crazy to help them pull their grades up.

My policy is that students can turn in missing work later in the same semester with only a ten percent reduction in score. This is reasonably effective in getting them to at least get the work done eventually. Each assignment has it’s own part in connecting all the material together.

For all I know it may be backfiring because some students are willing the take the cut because it’s easier to procrastinate. But for now, I’ve got to keep that option open so some of these kids can get their grades out of the gutter. I’ve got to get them to take ownership for their achievement.

Earlier in the semester I was far too busy planning lessons to spend much time contemplating rewards programs. Recently, however, I’ve found ways to speed up lesson planning. Now I can try doing some of the other things teachers do besides just teach. I’m becoming a cheerleader to my students.

I drafted up these little paper slips the fill out and hand to individual students. When I deliver them, I include verbal praise and encouragement, maybe a pat on the back or shoulder depending on the personality of the student.

I share them here in case you want to snag them. Each is in PDF form so you can view the layout, and also in Word form so you can edit it for your needs (6 slips per page.)


These are notifications of grade increase. If, as I am entering grades, I notice a jump from F to D, D to C, C to B or B to A, I want to congratulate the student. My mentor teacher suggested I should do it for F students too if they’ve come up a ways, even if they’re still in F territory. She reminded me that these students are sometimes the most in need of encouragement. So if a student has come up from say 46% to 53%, they get one of these too.

On the slips, I record the letter grade next to the percentage. One of the most important things I put on the slip is, “Because of your hard work, your grade has come up!” This is to help reinforce to students that their academic achievement comes from their own effort. I can visualize that 53% coming up to 57% and then 61%, and then at least the student has passed the class. With continued effort, he or she can do even better next semester.

Way to go!
Download PDF | Download MS Word


Then I started feeling sorry for my A students. These kids work hard day after day and rarely need my individual help. With my system above, they’ve never get that pat on the back in spite of consistently making their best effort. So this one says, “Bravo!!! You’ve maintained an A through hard work and smarts!” I also personally congratulate the students.

Download PDF | Download MS Word


Finally, I realized I needed an early warning system for grade drops. I had given a “Way to go!” slip to a student one day, and then when he turned in his next assignment, three-quarters was missing. Since he was right on the cusp of the higher grade, it dropped down again. I wrote this one up so I could explain what was the latest trigger to send a grade down. Luckily, this boy had the entire assignment but had simply made a mistake in turning in the digital folder. His grade is back up again.

Download PDF | Download MS Word

So far, the kids have been very receptive to this system. One student who had struggled out of an F into a D was so proud, he held it out in his two hands and told another student he wanted to frame that little piece of paper. Another student was overjoyed to receive two in one day – one from my graphic design class and one from my Web design class. Even the A students smiled and exuded pride.

It turns out, the grade is not always its own reward. Students need teachers to say, “Hey, I noticed how well you are doing!”

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

One reply on “Connecting Student Effort to Achievement”

I like this congrats and slipping slips. I too have some students who struggle with the web design.

I am curious, what do you think that it is that causes the students to do poorly? Is it the difficulty of work, time constraints, lack of engagement?

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