Image Provided by Ramunas Geciauskas on Flickr
Image Provided by Ramunas Geciauskas on Flickr

Reinforcing effort and providing recognition is a commonly overlooked instructional methodthat can do wonders for a child's education and improve a child's overall attitude towards tasks that seem too difficult. All too often students become discouraged by projects that seem too daunting or subject matter that is difficult to understand. Difficult school work accompanied by challenges at home make a student's decision to give up all too easy. Luckily for students who want to take the easy way out and give up, there are teachers who understand the student's predicament and will provide that extra motivation needed. When a student understands achievement and success is directly correlated to maximum effort, and the student is willing to give all they have, positive results will be seen (Levine, 2005).

Key Research Findings

  • Not all students know the connection between effort and achievement.
  • Student achievement can increase when teachers show the relationship between an increase in effort to an increase in success (Levine 2005).

The foundation of reinforcing effort and providing recognition is that a student understands the success that is attained from effort applied. Methods a teacher can use to help their students understand this are as follows:
  • Teach the relationship between effort and achievement. Many stories exist to make the connection with famous people. Draw examples from the well-known as well as the unknown so students recognize success in all situations and under many situations. Encourage students to think about: What does effort look like?
  • Reinforce effort. Students who are recognized for effort will make the connection between effort and improvement. Students should be helped to internalize the value of effort to make a strong connection between effort and the desired outcome.
  • Visual representation of effort may increase effort. Students who are helped to design an "effort log" using graphic representation will be more likely to see it in their mind's eye, and refer to it when working.
  • Create a class effort rubric. A class that shares a common definition for effort will also share the understanding of effort and achievement. If students are in learning groups, on the same teams, or in study groups together, they will have a common language and a shared ideal regarding effort and achievement.
  • Be careful about how and when recognition is provided. Verbal praise for small or easy tasks can be construed by students as undeserved, and may actually decrease effort. Ensure that praise and rewards are provided because an authentic standard of performance has been achieved. Doing an activity to a predetermined standard may well be worthy of reward and result in increased effort and motivation.
  • Recognize individual students for personal progress. Winning usually indicates that others have lost, or are "below the winner." When students have personal goals, or reach pre-determined standards of excellence, recognition is for personal achievement, which is unique to each student.
  • Make clear the real goal of effort. "The harder you try, the more successful you are" is what the act of recognition should communicate to students, not "the harder you try, the more prizes you get." Make this clear to students and apply it in practice (Levine, 2005).

The glue that holds the foundation together is recognition or praise. Although this has been a hotly debated topic, whether or not praise can have negative consequences, recent research has shown, when used correctly, praise can be a great motivator. Research has shown that recognition does not decrease student motivation or promote academic stagnation but rather the opposite. Praise can be a strong motivator and tool for encouragement when used for legitimate achievements and upon successful completion of difficult tasks. Simply saying "good job" or "nice work" is ineffective. Teachers must be creative in their praise and students must appreciate the recognition and want to build on it (Marzano, 2004).


Classroom Examples:
A great method to help students understand the benefits of hard work and effort is for a teacher to share a personal experience with the class about his/her experience with difficult tasks. The student will be able relate to the story and thus, better understand the cause and effect of effort and achievement.The students can learn first hand from a trusted source that with hard work and effort anything is possible and great things can be achieved (Marzano, 2004).

When Ms. Norford read “The Little Engine That Could” with her first graders, she always
tried to tell them a personal story that made a connection about the value of effort. One day
she told them a story about how she learned to snowboard:
“The first time I went snowboarding, my brothers took me to the top of the mountain,
told me not to ‘catch my front edge,’ and took off. Well, I spent about two hours
falling down the mountain. Once when I fell, I cut my chin. I had to get seven
stitches, and I was so sore I could barely sit down for about three weeks.
“But I didn’t give up. Two months later I went again. Only this time I took a lesson.
We practiced on a small slope where I learned how to stand up on the board and
how to stop myself. I still fell, but no stitches this time.
“I fell a lot my first year of snowboarding, but I kept practicing. I’ve been
snowboarding now for three years. Sometimes you have to keep telling yourself, ‘I
can do it,' you’ll find that effort like this also
pays off in your schoolwork. When we begin subtraction next week, whenever you
are frustrated, remember to keep trying and see what happens.”

A useful method teachers can use to praise their students is to display the student's maximum effort and high achievement with the class. When students can see the relationship with effort and success and notice how it is working for other students they will be motivated and enthused to also work hard to share in the success. Students will also notice the hard work the teacher is applying to their education, see the results of his/her labors, appreciate the recognition they received, and work just as hard in return (Marzano, 2004).

Students in Mr. Bjorn's senior physics class used an electronic bulletin board to generate
threaded discussions about current events related to physics. Mr. Bjorn devised a system
to recognize participation as students developed the online community. After posting ten
messages to the discussion board, a student earned one blue atom. Whenever that student
entered the discussion again, the blue atom appeared beside her screen name,
acknowledging her ten posted messages. As the students became more active on the
discussion board, Mr. Bjorn added a yellow atom for 25 posted messages, a green atom
for 50 posted messages, and a larger, red atom for 100 posted messages. This system
rewarded students in an informal way for participating in the discussions.

One of the most effective ways to help students understand the role of effort with achievement is through the use of a rubric. A student will be able to see the direct result of their hard work with positive results and have a better understanding of the relationship and how one action can cause a positive reaction. The teacher will also be able discuss the rubric with the student, changes that were made for better or worse, and give recommendations for improvement and praise (Marzano 2004).

Image Provided by Tom Smith and Diana Bixby on Wikispaces

Students who believe maximum effort will reap high achievements and apply that effort and hard work to obtain these achievements are more successful than students who rely on ability and luck. Teachers who also understand this relationship and encourage, motivate, and praise their students will see a more successful class of students. Instructional teaching methods help educators get the most from their students and, in turn, help their students get the most from the lessons. Reinforcing effort and proving recognition is one such teaching method, and although sometimes overlooked, can help in education immensely (Marzano, 2004).