Worth the effort?

effort dweck


Like most schools, at each data capture point (three times a year for each year group), we also ask teachers to give an ‘effort grade’ for each student.  Up until now, the rubric we used for this was fairly bland and not really used that effectively.  This is not too smart, from a school that celebrates and subscribes to the idea of developing a growth mindset.  To address this, Andy Tharby gathered a group of staff to re-write the effort rubric.  This is what they came up with:


The first group to have this applied to them were Y11 this week – by each of their teachers.  We’ve had a look at the correlation between their effort score (1= exemplary, 2=consistent, 3= inconsistent and 4 = poor) and it’s summarised by this graph;

effort graph

What does this tell us? Not surprisingly, that effort matters!  In my mind though, it’s what happens after this that matters.  Having identified students who fall short in terms of effort, what interventions will be put in place to address this?  If we get these effort-based interventions right with these students, we might be on to something.  Here are some ideas:

Your classwork and homework show consistent high standards and reflect excellent learning, as well as pride and care in your work.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Share examples of excellent work and deconstruct these together.  In this post, Andy Tharby discusses the importance of comparison when getting students to improve their work
  • Don’t accept mediocre work – expect students to redraft their work. If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished.
  • Following homework, have a dedicated DIRT lesson, where students address their weak areas.
  • Keep presentation of work high profile – share examples of work that is well presented and identify improvement points for students.
  • Use IPEVO visualisers to share examples of excellent student work.  Then work with individuals to focus on the gaps between their work and the exemplar work – and what they need to do to address them.

You always demonstrate perseverance when work becomes a struggle and you actively choose more demanding tasks, to help you achieve your goals.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Build a culture in your classroom that ‘struggle is OK’ – share common mistakes that students make and how to overcome them.
  • Modelling helps a great deal here – before students embark on a task, model an example with them, to give them the confidence to attempt one on their own.  As you are doing this, make some mistakes – and then correct them – to demonstrate that getting things wrong is perfectly fine.
  • If the work lends itself, make sure students have a ‘worked example’ to refer to.
  • Often they stop working on a challenging task,  because they don’t want to write it down and risk getting it wrong.  So, use careful questioning to get them to articulate their thoughts – adjusting your questioning if they get it wrong.  Once they have verbally answered the question, get them to then write it down.
  • Once you have supported them with the work they are struggling, get them to tell you the first thing they are going to do.
  • If they are really struggling, maybe start writing a sentence for them – that they can then finish – just to get them started.
  • Praise students when they attempt more challenging tasks.

You continuously seek and act upon all types of feedback, and you respond to setbacks positively.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Build time into your lessons to allow students to respond to feedback e.g. after you have marked their homework.
  • Use ‘live marking’ with targeted students i.e. whilst they are working, look at their work and write a question on their work, to develop their thinking and improve their work.  Tell them you will come back and in 3 minutes to see if they have improved it – make sure you then do, and praise them for responding to the feedback:

marking science2

  • Gallery critique is a great way to get lots of peer feedback, in a supportive and non threatening way.  Read more here.

You carefully organise your time and meticulously self-check your work.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Make it explicit when going through answers that you want them to ‘tick or correct’ their work.
  • Model how to self check their work in your subject e.g. have they described and explained their observations?  Have they used examples in their answer?  Have they labelled axes on a graph?  Have their spelling, punctuation and grammar?  Then encourage them to do this on a regular basis.
  • Arm yourself with a highlighter – when they make a mistake, just highlight it, but don’t tell them what the mistake is. Tell the they have to think about what the mistake is and correct it – this gets them into the habit of self-correcting.
  • Attendance at revision sessions is often a problem for these students – in fact, the students that often attend these sessions are usually the ones that least need it.  So, once you have planned any revision sessions, notify the Pastoral Leaders for these students and ask for their support in helping these students to get to your sessions.

You actively participate in all tasks during lessons and ask inquisitive questions.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Use cold-calling to involve students who usually avoid answering questions e.g. “What are the two products of respiration…..Kerry?”
  • When students respond with ‘I don’t know’, don’t just move on to somebody else.  Break down the question into simpler parts, that they can answer and then build them up.  Alternatively, ask another student a related question, and then come back to them.
  • Catch them working hard and set this as the benchmark for your expectation of them.  Director of English, Kate Bloomfield, does this by taking a photo of them working hard and sticking this on the front of their book:


  • Don’t overload students with long sets of instructions – keep it to about 6 steps.  The working memory can’t hold much more than this.

You consistently show self-motivation and determination when aiming beyond your best.

What can we do when this is not the case?

  • Praise effort, rather than intelligence.  Carol Dweck explains:

  • Help students to establish long term goals by talking about careers etc in your subjects and why being successful in your subject will be important for their future success.  Those students who have a clear career goal in mind, tend to have a much greater sense of intrinsic motivation.  Taking this outside of the classroom, Curriculum Leaders could lead assemblies about careers in their subject area and Pastoral Leaders could meet with these ‘low-effort’ students and ask ex-students to come in and talk to them about their careers.  Angela Duckworth calls this perseverance towards long term goals, grit:

  • Discuss why what they are doing will be useful to them e.g. doing lots of exam questions – this will make them more fluent and confident when it comes to exams.
  • Provide opportunities for students to experience success and then praise them for it.  Motivation won’t just happen and result in success.  By experiencing success, students will feel motivated and seek further success.



Students will lack effort for a multitude of reasons – and there’s no silver bullet that will address all of them.  However, most students who lack effort probably know that this is not good enough and want to do something about it – they just don’t know how.  So with this in mind, we need to provide them with a toolbox of strategies to help them improve their effort – and then praise them when they do.  Hopefully these examples will provide some inspiration.

And finally, a salient reminder for all of us

An average child

I don’t cause teachers trouble,

My grades have been O.K.

I listen to my classes.

I’m in school every day.

My parents think I’m average,

My teachers think so, too.

I wish I didn’t know that

’Cause there’s lots I’d like to do.

I’d like to build a rocket,

I’ve a book that shows you how;

Or start a stamp collection –

Well, no use starting now.

’Cause since I found I’m average

I’m just smart enough to see,

To know there’s nothing special

That I should expect of me.

I’m part of that majority,

That hump part of the bell,

Who spends his life unnoticed

In an average kind of hell.

By Mike Buscemi


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10 Responses to Worth the effort?

  1. Pingback: Worth the effort? | The Dean Academy: Professional Learning

  2. debrakidd says:

    I like a lot of this, but I wonder if the language of the “poor” grade could make things worse. The word “inadequately” for example can’t do anything but demotivate – but a more positive “you struggle to accept and act upon criticism” offers room for development – does that make sense? I wonder if it’s possible to reframe that section so that it offers a hand up?

  3. Pingback: Worth the effort? | Expansive Education Network

  4. Pingback: Marking and Feedback | _peterprior

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  6. Enjoyed this, Shaun, as usual. I was interested that your attempts to boost student effort are driven through teachers. I presume this goes alongside direct communication with students about improving their effort, for example through heads of year and senior leaders in assemblies? Thanks, as always, for sharing. Steve

  7. Pingback: TLC – Promoting Good Progress and Outcomes | hdhstl

  8. Pingback: Subject Pedagogy Development Session 1: Effort Matters | Class Teaching

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