Should We Be Assessing ‘Effort’ In The Classroom?

For the past few years I’ve thought long and hard about the merit of assessing effort in the classroom. Past blog posts about the work of Angela Duckworth, Grit, and growth mindset all come to mind as points where I’ve put fingertips to keyboard ruminating on the pros and cons of keeping this discussing with my students meaningful and at the forefront of our time together.

I’ve come to understand that in order to make effort an integral part of what we do as educators and learners, we must discuss it as we see it in others and ourselves. We must openly set goals, design our learning paths, and reflect as to whether or not we have successfully met these goals.

In my classroom we do so in a number of ways. At times it’s looking at effort in literature, both in fiction and nonfiction pieces. We discuss what effort looks like and how we can tell it has actually happened. It’s almost like we’re seeking out the evidence of someone’s effort. It’s a neat conversation because we begin to see trends across learning realms. Effort almost always looks like focus and determination, reflecting on one’s progress, and trying again and again until the goal has been met. It doesn’t matter if this is in athletics, learning a musical instrument, picking up a new language, or honing a specific skill. As a class we always see common traits across the board.

At times we look at effort within our own learning paths. We co-create learning units complete with opportunities to set goals, reflect on the progress we are making, and adapt as we go to ensure our goals will be attained. Students are encouraged and given support to create study plans and design their own inquiry-based learning units. We often sit one-on-one chatting about this process and how they know if they are on track. Sometimes they can’t tell if they’re on track or not and we talk about how learning can be uncertain at times, kind of like a roller coaster. Sometimes they can tell right away exactly where they’re going and how they’ll get there and that this feeling of confidence, although nice and comforting, won’t always be there.

I wonder what report cards would look like if student work habit marks (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement) were weighted differently. What if the students chose their own work habit mark? What if we made the work habit assessment a part of the curriculum? Students could track effort throughout the semester, set goals, reflect on their growth, and through these reflections self assess what their work habit should be. This work throughout the semester could be used as evidence of specific prescribed learning outcomes and be woven in to everything we do and included as an assessment tool as a portion of their academic grade. Rather than the teacher selecting a work habit for their students, students would reflect on their portfolio of learning and become the assessor.

I think I’m on to something here.

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4 thoughts on “Should We Be Assessing ‘Effort’ In The Classroom?

  1. Before I became a teacher I thought the idea of effort being graded was ridiculous. At a future job your boss won’t give you a commission cheque if you tried your best but lost the sale, or as a hockey player you won’t get to celebrate with your team if you scored zero goals but ‘tried really hard’.

    At younger ages though, students can’t see the correlation between hard work and success. With many students being at different stages developmentally, and with most students at the introductory stages of pretty much everything (sports, jobs, learning) they need to realize that hard work takes years to pay off. I know you’re not debating the merits of effort grading though… just some thoughts.

    I think this is a great idea. Today I gave a blank copy of a progress report to students who I work with in a learning support group, and asked them to rate their own progress so far. I really like the idea of doing this on a continual basis though… I’m thinking of incorporating it into a daily routine for some students. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    • Thanks for the comment Tom. Please let me know how it goes as things unfold.
      I think students who play sports, instruments, or some other endeavour that requires a certain “stickwithitness” get it. I wonder how this would impact students who are disconnected due to being repeatedly told through the message their grades (and teachers) give them, that they’re work, and their effort, isn’t good enough. By the time I see them in senior classes I need to spend some quality time helping them unwind and get used to some serious delivery model and assessment changes. It takes time and care but I think it pays off.

  2. You are most certainly onto something, Trevor!Too often after reading/ reviewing report cards I see that we as educators often confuse work habits with achievement of learning outcomes.

    • Thanks Nadine.
      I agree with your comment about report cards and work habits. I’d like to see more student involvement in this step of the process. In fact, students in my classes and I meet to discuss work habits and assessment prior to the first report card going home. The trick, and it’s a tough one, is to have students reflect on effort but not to have them get it confused with academic achievement. I think all to often students have been lulled in to a sense that everything we do in class is for “marks” as opposed to perhaps it’s just common sense, exercises in dedication, or just because it’s awesome learning.
      It’s a delicate conversation amongst educators, I know. But a relevant one.

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