For our students to bring effort to the mastery work in our classes, they’ve got to believe that their effort is actually going to pay off. You and I are not so different. Why try if it won’t matter?
Our students are asking, consciously or not:
- If I write, will I get better at writing?
- If I read, will I get to a place where I enjoy it?
- If I study for ten hours this month, will my assessment results be different than they have been in the past?
As I said, we’ve got to teach students what good effort looks like if we want their effort to pay off. But what if we’ve taught them the learning strategies, taught them how to find an enjoyable book, taught them how to improve at writing…and it still doesn’t work out?
Here are a few guidelines.
Normalize the failure. “Yeah, this happens. I’ve seen this before. The best thing for us to do is to sit down and look at how you studied so that we can make a plan for next time.” (Implied: And as your teacher, I know what to do in situations like this.)
Debrief with the student. If the failure-despite-effort is just happening with a student or two, then I like to schedule fifteen minutes with that student to look at what kind of effort they put in. I ask lots of questions here. I ask them to show me their notes. I ask them to describe to me what a study session looks like. Where did the studying happen? How many sessions did you put in? I keep an index card between us, and we write down things to try next time on the card (e.g., “Space the three hours of studying out over two weeks in 30-minute sessions rather than doing one giant cram at the end,” or, “Quiz yourself with flashcards of key terms instead of rereading your notes”).
If it’s a whole-class failure-despite-effort, then do the debrief with the whole class. Use Think-Pair-Share to have students write what specifically they did to prepare for the thing. What strategies did they use to select their choice-reading book? How many people did they ask for a book recommendation? What was their revision process like on the piece of writing? What resources did they consult for help? This shouldn’t be a lecture because you want all your students thinking, all your students processing — so use the three modes of Think-Pair-Share responsively, intuitively — your goal is to get everyone thinking about their effort and identifying strategies to use or modify next time around.
Never communicate, explicitly or otherwise, “Well, you should just try harder.” This is a vague notion that, in my observations, works for about 1% of the population. For 99% of us, high challenge and no support means long-term frustration, not long-term flourishing.
I hope this helps.