Carol Dweck’s work around growth and fixed mindsets has been groundbreaking for education. It has reinforced for educators that is it essential to praise effort, not intelligence.
This has led to change in the way educators speak and lots of us are doing great work in the way we provide feedback to students based on the processes they engage in, like persisting, failing and trying again, rather than talking about how smart they are.
However I think it is essential for us to make it explicit for our students that it is not intelligence that will land you success, but instead, the amount of effort you put in will have a major impact on your achievements.
Each year I now have my students create effort and achievement charts to explicitly demonstrate what this looks like for them as individuals.
I ask them to create a scale from 1 to 4 and to map what effort looks like at each level, 4 being the highest level of effort they could put into a task. We break down what people do when they are applying effort to something, and the way the behaviours change as effort decreases.
Some actions and behaviours that students say demonstrate effort are paying attention, asking for help, persevering, choosing a good spot to work, staying focused on one task at time, producing high quality learning products, taking their time to do something well rather than quickly.
Actions that students often say show a low level of effort are letting yourself be distracted, giving up, rushing, choosing to do something else other than their current task.
Students create their own personalised effort scale and map out what effort looks like at each level for them. It is important for them to identify how this might differ from others in their class. For example, some students focus more on the way they physically present when showing effort (e.g. staying with a group, keeping their eyes on the task, sitting in a certain place that helps them concentrate) while for other students the mental strategies they put in place are a stronger factor (e.g. ignoring distractions, focusing on one task only, persevering).
Silence ≠ Good Learning
This discussion provides a great platform to work through misconceptions about what learners need and do. Students often tell me that talking or moving around the class demonstrate low effort!
I seize the opportunity to begin to undo the myth that good learners sit silently in rows listening to their teacher talk at them. Together we begin to reframe what learning is and what effort looks like when we are trying to learn. This is tough and you can still see a few posters here that show the deeply instilled belief that level 1 effort includes talking.
Linking Effort to Achievement
Once we have determined what effort looks like, we map out what kind of achievement we would expect to get out of it using real scenarios (this can get very vague and wishy-washy without proper examples).
E.g. If a child says they are putting in effort into learning about decimal place value, it would looks like like paying attention to a decimal learning task, asking questions, staying focused, trying and trying again. The achievement they would expect from this level of effort is that after a time they would understand decimal place value, have evidence to show this and be able to discuss it.
At level 1 through 4 students describe the achievement they would expect from the explicit effort-related behaviours they have described. The guts of this part of the task is that students see the link between low effort and low achievement.
When students share their charts with their peers, I ask them to share an example of a time when they showed level 1 effort and what the outcome (or achievement was) and then share a story of a time they used level 4 effort and what they achieved.
We display these charts where students can refer to them and use them as part of our daily dialogue. “How can you show a level 4 effort in this learning activity?” My students are able to refer to the processes they personally need to use to experience high levels of achievement.
Bonus: I encouraged my kids to think of metaphors and symbols to express something that gets better and better to create their chart. The Jedi is my personal favourite but the creativity for this part of the task was cool all round and meaningful for each student.
How do you explicitly teach effort to your students?