Engagement and Effort - Steve Barkley

Engagement and Effort

This past week I had the opportunity to work with educators around the concept of student effort as the key to student achievement at the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools conference in Cairo, Egypt as well as with instructional coaches across the state of Arkansas where we extended the conversation to examine teacher effort.

Here are a few of the pieces shared:

In Cairo, I had the pleasure to meet Doug Johnson who keynoted on the Net Generation of learners in our classrooms. He commented that what we as teachers often identify as students’ desire to be entertained is really a desire to be engaged. You’ll find many resources on his site. One study that I explored, Listening to Student Voices on Technology….Today’s Tech Savvy Students Are Stuck in Text-dominated Schools contained this statement:

Even those students who attend highly-wired schools describe a school environment that often discourages their use of the Internet. They are frustrated by their inability to go online at school.

Online can increase engagement…engagement increases effort.

In a recent book, How to Meet Standards, Motivate Students, and Still Enjoy Teaching 1, Barbara Benson provides the following strategy which could be a great end or beginning of year way to encourage effort:

A teacher had incoming fourth grade students examine, “What it would take to get to fifth grade”? They determined what they needed to know, where they might find out, and how to begin. They interviewed fourth and fifth grade teachers and fifth grade students. They examined state learning standards and the textbooks. They discovered they would have to pass a state test in reading, writing, and math and so they requested a meeting with the “test guy”. (They interviewed the district test coordinator.) By the end of this activity these students had a pretty good picture of what was expected of them, had developed a plan to get started and were ready for the challenge. (Page 14)

Kassandra Tatum, who teaches at the BT Washington School in Hillsborough, FL, provided me the following strategy after a workshop on Tapping Student Effort:

I teach second grade and created an effort page (exit ticket) for my students to fill out. As a class, we talked about effort and came up with a 1-5 rubric.

1-didn’t want to be here today
2-tried sometimes
3- good effort some of the day
4- good effort most of the day
5- great effort all day

Everyday they have to fill out what they learned about in the subjects we covered, give themselves an effort grade and write a reflection about their day. At the bottom of the page, there’s a place for parent signature. I sent home a letter to my students’ parents explaining what their children would be bringing home everyday and encouraging them to sign it.

At the back of my classroom, I’ve brought in some of my trophies from elementary and high school. Three of the trophies are academic, one is from sports and the other is from music. I reference those when appropriate and we discuss what kind of effort it takes to receive trophies.

Because the effort page is filled out at the end of the day, I have my students do mini self assessments throughout the day. With their hand on their chest they show me how much effort they think that they’re putting into whatever we’re doing at the time. Often times, it gets them back on track if they weren’t before.


As Arkansas instructional coaches examined and applied the following from a quote shared in an earlier posting …In fact, as John Dewey anticipated, it appears that when conditions to support student interest are in place, effort will follow…we realized that as leaders we often want teacher effort for a program or initiative when we haven’t taken the time to support the teachers’ interest. When professional learning communities (PLCs) study student work, progress, results or observations….and teachers’ questions emerge that drive further study, observation and learning…teacher effort will follow. When we arrange PLC’s because a group of teachers’ have the same planning period and assign an agenda for their meeting or select a book for them to read, we may find we are facing an effort challenge similar to what the teachers are facing with their students.

A high school math teacher in Arkansas modeled a coaching conference with me around a school improvement initiative to increase student engagement and effort. My questions and listening had the teacher soon talking about 6 freshman students who she felt unable to reach. She was pretty certain that the other teachers who had these students were finding the same. She eagerly agreed to form a PLC with that group of teachers, observe each others’ classes, and examine research and writings on gaining student effort and then experiment in her classroom with new strategies. She was sure that learning she gained focused on these six students would apply to many others. She was ready to put EFFORT into the challenge…and LEARN.

1) Footnote : How to Meet Standards, Motivate Students, and Still Enjoy Teaching Second Edition) Barbara Benson.[ 2009] Corwin Press, Thousands Oakes, CA

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