Effort in the Classroom

Like many educators, I’m trying to develop a more student-centred classroom that focuses on learning, skills, and mindset more than grades. One of the struggles that I see shared among teachers making such changes is how to handle effort. The quick response to questions of effort in outcome or standard focused classrooms is that the outcome is what matters and that effort will show in the outcome. The Olympic athlete is evaluated based on result (speed, distance, etc.) and in some instances form or technique (gymnastics, diving) but never do the judges tally the hours of practice involved nor do they measure the kilojoules of energy burned during competition and factor such analytics into the medal standings.

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In theory this perspective on effort makes senses, but in practice I’m finding it lacking. Certainly the Olympic judges and officials do not concern themselves with the hours of practice and other forms of effort the athletes invest, but as a teacher I feel the analogy breaks down because I’m uncomfortable being placed in the role of judge. I feel much more connection to the role of coach, and you can bet the Olympic coaches are very much concerned with the effort of the athletes. On the field or in the classroom, effort is an essential component of growth and development.

I’m beginning to think my struggle with effort in the classroom stems from lugging an older definition of effort into the context of a changing classroom environment. This older definition of effort includes items like participation (talks or raises hand often), attentiveness (listens to lecture, eyes on teacher), focus (compliantly completes in class activities) and organization (work is neat and completed on time). When I started teaching I handled effort like my former teachers handled effort: award marks for plenty of talking/hand raising and deduct marks for work that wasn’t neat or handed in on time. There is no room for that type of sub-par motivation or cloudy grading in my class today, but when I jettisoned those practices, I was left with a vacuum which is the source of my struggle with student effort.

As an instructional coach, I know the importance of effort in the classroom, but my old coaching techniques weren’t effectively developing learners. At the same time, I was left with the feeling that I somehow threw out the baby with the bath water. I believe there are many teachers in the SBL and TTOG movement who are feeling the same way. I want to join the larger conversation about reframing effort in the classroom and finding new ways to effectively communicate its importance and effect in school/life to students and parents.

During the beginning of the school year, I plan to post some specific methods I’m trying in order to reorient effort in school, but here is the general game plan. Instead of dismissing effort, I’m searching my curricular outcomes for connections to the skills and behaviours that I formerly lumped into “effort”. For example, listening is one of the language arts, so rather than arbitrarily awarding a mark based on how attentive each student appears to me, how will I teach, assess, and communicate progress when it comes to listening? Informal and impromptu speaking is an essential skill that we each use every day, and it deserves more attention than a simple tally of how many times a student volunteered an answer. Which speaking outcomes and assessments might help all students develop conversational skills that are part of day to day classroom practice?

Shifting to classrooms that help students take greater ownership of their learning is crucial, but as we make the shift, let’s not inadvertently unmoor learning from effort, but rather, more clearly (and fairly!) define and communicate how they are connected. As I plan my next posts, I’d love to hear how you handle effort in your class. How do you define effort? Are there manageable ways to teach, evaluate, and communicate progress when it comes to effort? Do you think it is advisable or commendable or even worthwhile to do so?  Of course, you can leave a comment below or add to the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #sblchat and #ttog.

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3 Comments

Filed under Reflection

3 responses to “Effort in the Classroom

  1. Pingback: Attentiveness and Participation Assessed! Sort of. | Re-Vision

  2. Hi Scott,

    Doing some great thinking on this topic of effort, which is sometimes too quickly dismissed in discussions of SBL or TTOG. Like most of these teachers, I believe effort belongs entirely outside the academic grade. But you bring up a gray area where effort might be difficult to separate effort from actual language arts skills.

    You write about your desire to “effectively communicate its importance and effect in school/life to students and parents.” My question is why couldn’t this be done SEPARATELY, following a similar standards-based format? In my experience, teaching, modeling, supporting, and reporting these critical skills separately is actually MORE effective than incorporating them into the academic grade.

    Sure, some effort-related things like frequency and depth of response will be difficult to separate out from certain language arts skills, but I think that should be the goal. That doesn’t mean to “unmoor learning from effort,” but rather show a clearer cause and effect, one that is more obvious when the two can be examined side by side.

    Thanks for the share on this important topic!

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Arthur. I explored your blog enough to know that you will be a helpful, reflective voice as I work through the challenges presented by my developing teaching practice. You, too, have been thinking about assessment and learning a great deal, and I appreciate your willingness to share.

      I agree that the goal is to communicate all elements of a student’s education as clearly as possible. You capture this goal well when you write that we should, “show a clearer cause and effect, one that is more obvious when the two can be examined side by side.” Amen! I just worry about how to ensure the side-by-side element in the instruction, assessment, and reporting for all the stakeholders. I’m overly cautious about reporting effort separately because I’m still working out how to maintain the cause and effect connection between effort and other learning outcomes, but I’m working on it with plenty of help from other educators (you included).

      Thanks again for encouraging and pushing my thinking.

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