Despite hating this blemish on the otherwise consistent little lawn, I've done very little to fix it. One year I tried watering it for a few days, and then put some fertilizer on it hoping to bring the dead grass back to life. The next year, I indiscriminately threw some grass seed on it, hoping the new grass would inspire the dying ecosystem towards greatness. Both times ended in failure. The fact that my dog Clover continued to mark her territory on a daily basis was of no help either.
Finally today, perhaps because of the 80 degree weather, perhaps because the grass has finally turned green, perhaps because I was just looking to avoid grading research papers...I had enough. I ripped out the dead grass, planted new seed, fertilized, added top soil, watered, rinsed and repeated. The formally yellow dead zone is now...well, it's now dirt, but very soon, with a little bit of watering, it'll be where it needs to be. The grass will finally cease to disappoint.
Why do I tell this story? Well, as a teacher, this is what I've seen year after year both with my co-workers, my students, and myself. When given a task like raising student test scores, or scoring higher on a paper, or improving a unit, the first instinct is to simple "try harder". A little mental fertilizer will get the job done, right? When that fails, we try throwing some new seed down. My students will attempt to add some keywords. Maybe they'll remove the word "is" from the entire paper and hope that I'm somehow impressed. My co-workers and I will tweak our existing exams. By this, I mean we take a set of questions from the mid-term and move them to the final and call it progress. As for myself, I'll rearrange a few powerpoint slides, or maybe I'll make something "easier" or "harder" by changing requirements.
But of course, none of this ever works. It may offer a slight improvement, but it doesn't change a thing for any significant amount of time. The only way to really make something better is to dig up the dead, prepare for something new, put in the effort...and then wait. The results will take time, and at first it may look worse than what you had...but it's the only way to grow.