Every year for a while, my third grade teachers requested that I do an effort on “Best Effort”. I think some of it is the teachers and their expectations and I think another part is the huge jump between 2nd and 3rd grade in regards to rigor. One year, this was the first request of my 4th grade team.
Note: My teachers have always done an amazing job differentiating, supporting, and scaffolding. That means that I can usually trust my students will be successful with the work assigned to them if they try their best. Not every school is necessarily like this. Some teachers may not accommodate or modify work as well (or provide as many other supports). In those cases, assuming best effort will be a game changer is unhelpful. You know your teachers and students – this may be a lesson to tweak depending on your school’s needs.
What is best effort?
I start the lesson with a super short PowerPoint walking them through different levels or degrees of effort. The students take turns reading different parts of this to make it more engaging. Here’s a fly by of what it looks like:
*Note: I originally had a slide that said “The higher your effort, the hotter your grade!” I quickly changed that the following year to “The higher your effort, the hotter your learning!” to better reflect my own beliefs and to not assume that someone will get all A’s if they give their best effort. I just didn’t make a new video!
In some classes, specifically with 3rd grade, this needs to be fleshed out even more. Enter: anchor charts! We created this together whole group. Students did a turn and talk with a partner to brainstorm ideas for each section, then shared out as I added their thoughts onto the chart. My teachers loved this as a visual that stayed behind for them to reference!
Acting it Out
The next step is for me to get a couple of volunteers to help act out a story I’m going to tell. I have it in the PPT and also separate as a teacher ‘script’. The two student volunteers wear character signs and I try to get them to act out what I’m reading whenever possible.
After I read about how each character responded to the pretend assignment, I project their assignment and give each table group a copy of the rubric and have them score the effort.
I ask some discussion questions once the stories are over:
- Which student used their time more wisely?
- Which student is probably more proud of their work? (or in some classes I asked Which student do you think became a better writer from doing this assignment?)
Note: I originally had questions about the student’s grades, future, and teacher approval. That probably fit my and my teachers’ mindsets in 2016, but they don’t anymore.
Processing and Reflecting
In my 4th grade classes, I needed to try and incorporate something about the reasons why students don’t give their best effort. I talked with some kiddos and teachers to get the most common ones, then turned those into sheets for students to practice helpful self-talk with. Students worked on these in small groups and after a few minutes, I asked them to erase what they had and then swapped the sheets around for groups to tackle different excuses and unhelpful thoughts.
The last piece to our lesson used to be for the students to self-evaluate their effort in class. This takes a lot of coaching! The best outcome is when the teacher joins me for this piece of the lesson to help students be more accurate. Even with examples of what best effort looks like, they still struggle to identify what they personally need to do differently in order to show more effort – they just don’t have this self awareness yet. I have one self-evaluation form that I use when we think the students can truly evaluate their general effort. The other one is for specific assignments, and I ask the teachers to direct the students to pull out a very recent assignment to look at.
The truth is that nearly all of the students want good grades and to give their best effort (they don’t lack the motivation), and don’t struggle from fixed mindsets, they just haven’t developed great schoolwork skills (reading the directions, checking work, ignoring distractions, writing multiple complete sentences, etc.) yet. This is the kind of lesson I do that is more about providing a knowledge base and common language – it takes consistent teacher reinforcement for behavior change in this arena.
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