Podcast: Teaching & Coaching Student Effort - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Teaching & Coaching Student Effort

In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve ponders “Teaching & Coaching Student Effort.”

Listen as Steve discusses how his formula of Effort x Ability (Focused on a Manageable Task) = Success can be applied by teachers and coaches to find “continued payoff” for students.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes. Thanks for listening!


Announcer: Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School of leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.

Steve Barkley: Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For the last 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading. Thanks for listening in. Teaching and coaching student effort. When I wrote the book Taping Student Effort, Increasing Student Achievement, I based it around the formula that reads effort times ability, focused on a manageable task, equals success.

My initial finding was a lot of students were unaware of that formula. A lot of students thought the formula was ability equals success. They had a tendency to look around the room and spot students who were being successful and saying, I wish I had that ability. Then there were some students who thought it was an addition formula and that being ability plus effort equals success. In other words, if I took my ability, and I added some effort, I could get a little bit more success but the point that I wanted to drive home to students was that effort was really a multiplier, effort multiplies your ability.

The unique element of it is that when I put in that effort and my ability increases, I get continued pay off from it. I’ve described it. It’s kind of like back when we had compound interest at the bank, you could put money in the bank and it actually grew as it sat there. When I invest effort and I grow my ability, that ability continues to have payoff, even after I stopped putting the effort in. Invest effort now drive up, my reading stamina, my comprehension skills set, even when I stopped with the effort, those skills I gained continue to pay off for me and they will pay off in courses that weren’t necessarily a reading or a language arts course.

I then found that many students didn’t have a clear understanding of what it meant to put effort into a learning activity. I’ve discovered one strategy that some teachers use to help with this and that is, they built in a requirement for students to place an effort score on any major piece of work prior to handing it in. I’m handing in a lab report and on the top of my lab report, I might place on a scale of one to 10 my effort on this was a six or seven. Here’s an English piece I wrote, here’s a set of math problems I solved and my efforts scores a nine or my effort scores a four.

In addition to placing the score, what’s critical is that students write two to three sentences, explaining why they gave the piece of work the effort score that they assigned. Now, in order to do that, a teacher then has to stop and build some connected definitions that students can use in making their explanation. I found these four categories help. Time, perseverance, patience, and repetition of success. Students can look through those four lenses to judge the level of their efforts. First of all time, it’s pretty difficult to put effort into a task without expending a chunk of time into the task.

As a first indicator, a student can look at the length of time they spent engaged or working on something as an indication of their effort. The second item, perseverance or do-overs. The number of repetitions are an indicator of my effort. The number of times I was willing to run into the wall to discover that the process I was using wasn’t being effective and instead of quitting I backed up and started over, that’s an indication of my effort. Third is patience, effort requires patience because my initial investment of effort frequently does not have a payoff.

It’s difficult to get the perseverance that’s necessary unless I have the patience, the “sticktoitiveness.” Lastly, when I initially meet success and I continue to put in effort or practice or more repetitions after the initial success is another indicator of my effort. Imagine that students have just completed a task of working on a 20 math problems over a day or two and they’re handing in that work, a student might hand in 20 problems with all the problems done correctly and place at the top that it was an effort score of two. The reason it was an effort score of two is that the student already knew how to do all the problems.

The only effort that was critical or necessary was putting in enough time to do the problems. Now, another student of that same class might hand in the 20 problems, and none of them are done correctly and the student has at the top and an effort score on a scale of one to 10 my effort score is a 12. The reason it’s a 12 is, “I was up till 11:30 last night working on this, I was online with people from two foreign countries, I completed the Khan Academy class and my mother said, ‘if you ask me one more question, I’ll hit you.'” The student put in a ton of effort now, this is critical, I think that we begin to engage students in this conversation.

The teacher getting a paper with all the work done correctly, frequently makes an assumption that the student put in a lot of effort and the teacher getting a paper where there aren’t indicators of success frequently makes an assumption that the student did not put in the effort. While those assumptions may be correct, I think it’s critical that we have a way to engage students in the conversation.

I recall my daughter working on a project when she was in high school many years ago where she worked pretty hard on the project and received a low grade. Her initial response to that low grade was that she wasn’t going to put much work or effort into work she did in that class in the future.

That is important because I’m not at all suggesting that the grade she received wasn’t that appropriate grade for what she had accomplished, but I think if the teacher had known– If my daughter had communicated to the teacher the degree of effort she invested in it, it would have caused the teacher to start up a conversation. If you work that hard on this project and this is the result, then there’s something wrong. You’re using the wrong tools the wrong resources there’s a missing link somewhere and that engages the teacher and the student into working out a plan that will lead to greater student success.

If you look back at my examples of the students handing in the math work, a student hands this work and it’s all done correctly with an effort score two, what that student really ought to hear from their teacher is an apology. The teacher apologizing because in effect I gave the student the inappropriate assignment. I would want a student to know if you can do that work with minimal effort that’s not a good use of your time. Should you find me giving you an assignment like that in the future, please point it out to me because I would like to make modifications and adjustments so that the time you are investing, the effort that you are investing is more likely to have a payoff for you.

Equally the students who worked all that effort of a 12 and didn’t make any progress, that student should be hearing a note of congratulations from the teacher for making that effort investment but also should be hearing an apology. For the teacher to say, “If you worked that hard and you didn’t make any progress, it wasn’t an appropriate assignment for me to give you and I need to find a way to communicate with you faster, don’t go that long without being successful, without checking into me so I can make a change or a modification.”

Having students reflect on the impact that their effort has on the outcomes that they achieve is critical and it’s missing in way too many of our classrooms. Some students get it and are successful because of their understanding and other students are missing that and I think we need to step up and teach it to them. I’d encourage you to think about just implementing this in a single grade level or as instructional coaches and administrators is that a conversation to have within a department or across the whole school, to begin to move towards having students assess their effort and teachers be able to provide both instruction and coaching on what we mean by effort.

Now, I worked with a primary teacher and she had a unique way of doing this. She had an effort scale that hung on her wall, it was a scale of one to five. One was very low effort and five was very high effort.

I think a one was something like ‘I came to school today but my brain stayed home’ and all the way up to number five was like a total physical all in engagement in the work that the student was doing. During the morning, as the teachers working with a reading group and other kids are at centers or working individually at their seats, at any moment in the day, the teacher may just look out across the group and yell freeze, effort count.

When she says effort count, the kids have to put their hand on their chest and show anything from a closed fist, which was zero to a five being full effort in and she pauses while each student stops and analyzes the amount of effort they believe they were putting in when the teacher said freeze, effort count.

It gives the teacher the opportunity to look around the room and spot a kid like me who’s got a big open five out on his chest and all she does is turn her head sideways a little bit and go Steve and I quickly begin to fold in fingers to move my five to a one or two. What I loved from the example of the teacher is she told me that kids who end up showing a zero or a one or two when she says melt, the kids actually physically shake themselves and then refocus on to their work.

What this teacher is doing is teaching students at a very young age that they can stop and consciously focus their effort. I recall a story from my past that kind of wraps up students having to learn about effort. In my very first year of teaching, actually I was student teaching, I had a gifted young man in my class named Daniel. Daniel came to school every day in a three-piece suit carrying an attache case and that was fourth grade. I said to Daniel one day, that’s a great book bag and that’s when he informed me it wasn’t a book bag. It was an attache case and at the time, I don’t think I knew what an attache case was.

Daniel was kind of a scary student for me in class as a new teacher because he was forever raising his hand and adding information on to whatever I was telling the class. Daniel had a tendency to know things beyond and deeper than I did as a teacher, and being a young teacher I was somewhat threatened by him but my school had a swimming program and as fourth graders once a week we would walk over to the college pool and students would get a swimming lesson.

Daniel managed to show up for the first three days that we went to swimming classes without his swimsuit. When it happened the fourth time I went down the office and called home and came back up to the classroom and I said, Daniel, I got great news for you. I just called your mom and she’s going to drop your bathing suit off. Daniel looked at me like he wasn’t excited to have a teacher who cared so much.

As we walked up to the pool that day and get dressed in the locker room and up to the pool I could tell Daniel’s hesitancy and I went up to him and I said, “Daniel, tell you what all Mr. Barkley wants you to do today is set on the side of the pool and put your feet in the water. That’s all you need to do on our first day here.”

Daniel was sitting on the side of the pool with the rest of the kids and when the PE teacher came out, blew the whistle and all the kids jumped in the pool. To my surprise, Daniel jumped in with them and after a little while, I noticed Daniel was holding his nose and putting his face down in the water. I was rather excited about the progress he had made.

We got dressed and we were walking back to the school and I walked up to Daniel, I put an arm around him. I said, “Daniel, I just need to tell you Mr. Barkley is really proud of you and what you’ve done today.” With that, Daniel looked up at me and he said, “Mr. Barkley to tell you the truth, I’m rather disappointed.” I looked down at him and I said, “Daniel why would you be disappointed?”

He said, “Well, last night I read a piece on how to swim. I tried it today and it doesn’t work.” As a gifted student, it was Daniels first school experience in realizing that something was going to take effort beyond his opportunity to be successful on that front end. Folks, I hope you’ll invest in teaching that effort to your students and as instructional leaders and instructional coaches, know that the same is true of some of our teachers.

We have teachers who may not have the perseverance and the patience when their initial efforts working with students are not successful. We need to teach and model that growth mindset of the payoff that effort can provide. Thanks for listening.

Thanks for listening folks, I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @SteveBarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs @barkleypd.com.

[00:17:13] [END OF AUDIO]

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