The New ‘F’ Word

You’ve heard it. Students are bound to have used this word before you without batting an eyelid or breaking into a sweat. It’s becoming part of everyday language for many and hampering their success. You’ve heard it. The new F word: eFFort!

Effort is one of the key ingredients in achieving success in any endeavour, and getting students to put in the effort can be a struggle for many educators. There are many reasons why people may resist putting in effort and understanding these reasons is crucial in finding ways to motivate them.

Seven common reasons why students don’t like putting in effort:

• Fear of failure
One reason is that students may feel that if they try their best and still fail, it will reflect their intelligence or ability. This fear of failure can be paralysing and may prevent learners from even trying in the first place. Plus, if a student has experienced repeated failures, they may feel that putting in the effort is pointless since they are bound to fail again.

• Lack of internal motivation
In so many ways, school is being ‘done’ to students. They turn up each day and are told what to do, think, and when to talk, eat, etc. They often do not have a voice in their learning. They lack a drive because they lack choice or control over their education. If they are not internally or intrinsically motivated, their desire to put effort into something lowers.

• Lack of skill level
Some students may need more skills or knowledge to complete a task, making it difficult to put in the required effort. For example, a child may struggle with math concepts, making it difficult to put in effort when completing math tasks.

• Low tolerance for frustration
Learners may become easily discouraged when faced with a difficult task or problem, causing them to give up quickly instead of persisting. This can be particularly true for students who still need to develop strong coping skills or resilience.

• Lack of understanding of the value of effort
Students may need to learn the value of effort and how it translates to success. They may believe success is based on natural talent or luck rather than hard work and perseverance.

• Not feeling supported or encouraged.
Children need to feel that their efforts are valued and appreciated by the adults in their lives. If they do
not receive positive reinforcement, they may think that putting in the effort is pointless. They may also
feel discouraged and give up if they receive constant criticism or negative feedback.

• External distractions
Factors such as distractions or competing priorities can make it hard for people to put in the effort. For
example, a child may need help to focus on homework if they are distracted by video games or social media. Competing priorities, such as extracurricular activities or family obligations, can make prioritising their work challenging.

The good news is that there are many different ways a teacher can encourage students to dig a little deeper and add ‘effort’ to their work and life.

6 ways to encourage students to make an ‘effort’

• Talk about learning and the role of mistakes.
Share with your students the many ways the brain learns and how mistakes are critical. Mistakes are learning experiences and are opportunities to continue to improve. They are like taking a detour on a road trip. Just as taking a wrong turn can lead to discovering new places and experiences, making mistakes can lead to new insights and understanding. This may require more time and effort and can lead to deeper and more meaningful learning.

• Provide feedback that focuses on effort, not just results
Take time to notice, comment and give feedback on students’ efforts, not only the results. Feedback should acknowledge the student’s effort and highlight specific actions or behaviours that demonstrate that effort. For example, “I noticed you took the time to revise your essay multiple times. Your attention to detail and willingness to make changes show you’re dedicated to improving your writing skills.”

• Make learning relevant and interesting.
Giving students an authentic reason to learn content is a way to encourage more effort. It could be by showing and giving examples from different professions, relating content to real-life situations, or creating tasks requiring real-world skills. Consider your student’s interests and hobbies and connect new learning to these.

• Encourage autonomy
This might involve giving them choices within a topic or how they show their learning, such as with a video, essay, or presentation. Encourage learners to self-reflect on how they might improve and how the knowledge relates to their personal lives. Allow for creativity and self-expression in their work rather than being mirror copies of each other.

• Help students set achievable goals and break tasks down into smaller steps.
Taking the time to help your students set goals can give huge rewards. It allows them to prioritise, see
their progress and take ownership of their learning. This, in turn, increases the effort they may be willing to expend. Teach your students how to break their goals into achievable steps, as a task or goal often seems too big. As Emily Dickinson said, “One step at a time is all it takes to get you there.”

• Teach students self-regulation skills to manage distractions.
This is undoubtedly a life skill and a work in progress for most of us! Discuss the distractions they (and you) are grabbling with and brainstorm ways to minimise them. The free app iStudyAlarm gives students a 20-minute focus time with a five-minute break. During the break, they can check social media, notifications and engage in an activity that will allow them to focus for the next 20 minutes. Encourage strategies such as turning off the spell checker while typing or using instrumental music to keep the brain focused. Have clear expectations, encourage mindfulness practices and give opportunities for movement within your class. These can all help the brain to focus and increase motivation and effort.

Encouraging effort is essential for academic success and building lifelong skills. Educators must promote putting in ‘effort’ as something worthwhile and crucial.

Published on Saturday, April 22nd, 2023, under Life lessons, Rules, Study Skills, Success

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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