Student effort is critical to reaching maximum levels of learning success. Knowing and in some cases building pictures of future success is a key to motivating effort. Steve shares many examples of strategies teachers have implemented.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:33 Working with students’ pictures of success. Student effort is a required component of student learning success and a picture of a desired future is the key component to tapping student effort.
Steve: 00:54 Several years back, I wrote a book called “Tapping Student Effort: Increasing Student Achievement” and the start of putting that book together came as I was seeing this push to increase the student performance on tests. Increasing student learning outcomes. And what I was hearing was we needed teachers to put in more effort. We needed teachers to work harder. And if we could get teachers to work harder, we’d get an increase in the student learning outcomes that we were looking for. And that picture just didn’t match what I was finding as I looked at classrooms. In way too many of the classrooms that I was in, I thought it was the reverse that was happening.
Steve: 01:46 And that is that the teachers were frequently working too hard. And if we were going to get the increase in student achievement that people were looking for, it really meant increasing the effort that students put in. And in researching for that book, I came across a a formula that I ended up building the book around. And the formula is read effort x ability focused on a manageable task, = success. Effort x ability focused on a manageable task = success. The concept being that effort is a multiplier of of a student’s ability. So when I put in effort and it increases my ability, that increase in ability tends to have a continuous payoff. Now I need to put that effort and ability then focused on a task that is manageable.
Steve: 02:57 And by manageable, it means not too difficult of a task because then I’m not seeing any progress, but also not too easy of a task. It it’s finding that appropriate task that challenges me and allows me to see pay off from the work that I’m implementing. So effort x ability focused on a manageable task, = success. In this podcast, I’d like to address that concept of success first, because if a student does not possess a picture of success, then the student doesn’t have any reason to focus on putting in the effort that is necessary for the learning to occur. So I’d like to just give you a couple stories of things that I’ve seen teachers doing to drive toward that picture of success. It really requires knowing the students. I’ve described my example that I would love to see middle school students leaving the middle school, headed into a high school, having a five year plan in writing so that the the student knows what they want to be doing the year after high school graduation.
Steve: 04:35 And the concept being that they are going to their high school teachers with that plan and the teacher is assisting them in understanding what they, as a student need to invest in order to achieve that plan, that picture that they have out in front of them. If I have students coming to me without that picture, then my task as a teacher has to be to assist students in developing that picture. I’ve worked in some communities where we’ve had to take students on a field trip to show them people employed in areas because that employment possibility didn’t exist in the town that they were in. Many people build programs where they take students off to college campuses because students in high school do not have a picture of themselves in that environment of that college campus. I worked with a inner city a grade five teacher and on the first day of school, this teacher would take her students down to the auditorium, put them on stage with a cap and gown and take their pictures.
Steve: 05:53 When she returned to the classroom with them and she gave each student that picture of them graduating, the students then put that picture into a journal. And this teacher started each day of the entire school year – each school day started with an activity where the students pictured that graduation day in their mind. So the students would imagine graduating on a hot day and they’re sweating and the sweat running down from their cap is leaving a black streak on their head. Or they’d picture what happens on a rainy graduation day when graduation has to be moved inside the gym. She had them develop the list of people that they imagined coming to their graduation. She had them practice hearing their name read with their middle name included the way it might be read on graduation day. They practiced walking across the stage and being able to take a diploma and shake hands.
Steve: 06:57 And when I asked the teacher about why she did that activity, she stated to me, if students do not have a picture – she said, you got to recognize my – she said, my students come to school each day, having walked past unemployed men on the street corner. If that’s the picture they have in their head of their future, then there’s no reason to put in the effort that I’m requesting of the student. So I’ve got to start by having them get that picture. Now, here’s what I found was really interesting. After that activity, each day that the teacher had students envision graduation day, she asked students to write two entries into their journal. And the first entry she had them write was, what did I do yesterday to cause this picture to become true? So they reflected. And the second statement she had them write is, what commitment am I making today to cause that picture to become true?
Steve: 08:02 That’s a teacher setting out a plan to motivate student effort by generating a picture in students’ heads. Several years back, I
found a book called “Updraft Downdraft,” and that book talked about the gap that existed in high school, between successful students and unsuccessful. And it described the fact that that gap frequently grew during the high school years, because some students entered high school and stepped into the updraft while other students entered high school and stepped into the downdraft. The kids who stepped into the updraft or students who tended to be taking higher level courses, where teachers were continually raising the expectations on the students. They were also working with classmates who encouraged effort. And those students tended to have a picture in their mind that connected what they were being asked to do today with the future. So I have a student who’s in a chemistry class, struggling, hating chemistry.
Steve: 09:21 And as they’re saying, I hate this, they know inside their mind that it’s a requirement for the nursing program they want to get into. And so that picture of the future helps to motivate the necessary effort. At the same time, some other students were entering into the downdraft. Those students were frequently enrolled in lower level courses where teachers may be decreasing the demand on the student. These students tended to see no connection between what they were being asked to do in the classroom and their picture of the future. So now I have that same student struggling in chemistry, hating it and when they’re asking themselves, why would I do this without that future picture, there wasn’t a source to draw the the effort from. And those students in the downdraft, frequently joined peer groups where they were actually discouraged from making that investment into effort.
Steve: 10:24 And so with the updraft and the downdraft, we actually can be creating a increase in what many people are looking at as that learning achievement gap. If we’ve got students in that downdraft, our focus has to be on our ability to create a picture of future success. The last item I’d like to address address here in this picture of future success is the ability to show students the connectedness between setting goals and working on those goals in order to achieve that picture of success. I had the opportunity to to work with a a grade four teacher. And she ended each week by having the kids sit in a circle and celebrate the successes they had reached that week. And then students were asked to set a goal for the coming week. And the teacher recorded each of their goals on the board.
Steve: 11:29 And at the end, all the students walked up and sign their name to the poster of goals. And when they signed their names, they were making an agreement that they would work as hard as they could to achieve their goals and equally, they would support each other in achieving those goals. And as I sat there and watched that day, a student yelled out that she was gonna move her reading score from a level 20 to a level 40. And as she said that out loud, one of the students yelled out at her, “wow, that’s awful high. I don’t know if that’s possible.” And so the student thought a moment, she changed it to a 35. And so as the kids went around the circle and they came to me, I had to set my goal for the week and share it with the kids.
Steve: 12:21 And then I say to the kids, “hey, you know, before I leave, I just want to check something. What do you think is better? Do you think it’s better to set a goal of 35 and achieve it, or do you think it’s better to set a goal of 40 and reach a 38?” And as soon as I said it there’s one little boy said, “oh, it’s better to set a goal of 35 and achieve it.” And I said, “why?” And he said, “well, because you feel so good when you achieve your goals.” And as right as he said it, a little girl spoke up and she said, “yeah, but 38 is more than 35. Wouldn’t it be better to get 38?” And so the class got into this discussion of goals as motivators versus goals as measures of achievement. And I found it so powerful when the teacher then entered the conversation, she said, “boys and girls, I have to share something with you.”
Steve: 13:13 She said, “we are constantly having celebrations of success in the classroom, but I need to tell you that most of the time as a
class, we aren’t reaching the goals that I’ve set, but our high achievement is happening because we set high goals and we’re constantly working towards those goals.” I’d like you to consider the formula again. Effort x ability focused on a manageable task = success. As you think about the students you’re working with, do you have students who don’t have a picture of success and that’s where you need to be building your focus? Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 13:58 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.