29 December 2008 08:56 AM

Effort and Persistence

by Dr. Rick

Can you still get an “E for Effort” on your report card?  Remember when effort and persistence used to count for something?  Then came the “I am smart and loveable” movement, which, to far too many well-intentioned adults, seemed interested in self-esteem (which is a good thing, especially when it’s tied to achievement) to the exclusion of effort (which is, at the least, equally good).


“I know you can get a good grade in this difficult subject because you’re smart!” may be nice for some kids to hear, but “I know you can get a good grade in this difficult subject if you study, go to class regularly, take good notes, do well on tests, and get help early if you need it,” is much more helpful in its specificity and expectations.


Adding, “To help you, I’ll work with you to set report card goals, reward you when you achieve those goals, set consequences when you don’t, check your homework, and get you help if you need it,” makes it even clearer and shows your involvement and support.


Learning requires sustained effort and attention.


Take math, for example.  Ask parents, and they’ll tell you, of all the homework subjects, they have the most trouble helping with math.  What to do?


Here’s some helpful advice from the 2008 National Mathematics Advisory Panel (to read it, go to http://www.ed.gov/): “Teachers and other educational leaders should consistently help students and parents to understand that an increased emphasis on the importance of effort is related to improved mathematics performance.”


Is effort making a comeback?  Is persistence on the upswing?  They seem like old-fashioned skills and attitudes, but what’s old-fashioned about perseverance and responsibility?  About the pride of hard-earned accomplishment?  About a sense of discipline?  About a respect for knowledge?


How can we adults foster effort and persistence among our youngsters?  Here are a few ideas:


  1. Help kids develop skills for self-regulation, like learning resistance to distractions.  Letting kids think they can “multitask” while they study is evil, wicked, mean, bad, and nasty.  By definition, you can’t give 100% if you’re multitasking.  Ask Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods.  Ask anyone with any common sense.
  2. Praise effort and persistence rather than just ability.  Athletic coaches and performance arts teachers know this.  Praise should be immediate and unexpected.  Carol Fertig, an expert on Gifted and Talented education, says to be sincere and emphasize process not ability.  Praise behavior, not attributes of the child. 
  3. Don’t make excuses for your child.  Expect him to put forth real effort.  How many times do teachers at report card time hear, “But how can he get this low grade?  He’s so smart!”  And how many times do teachers reply, “Maybe so, but he’s not expended the least effort to do anything yet.”
  4. Make sure activities are appropriate.  They should be challenging, allowing the child to stretch his talents.  Too-easy assignments bore kids.  Too-difficult ones frustrate.
  5. Assist.  This never means doing the assignments for the child.  It doesn’t even mean mastering the academic skills yourself.  It does mean helping your child set goals for success and keeping her on track.  If that means getting extra help, do it. 
  6. Organize.  Break up big tasks into smaller ones.  This is so easy and makes so much common sense, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do it.  Help your student to manage her time.  Show her how you manage yours.
  7. Be a good role model.  Show how effort and persistence are important to you in the challenges you face at home every day.  Maturity is always a good exemplar.

Teachers and parents, who taught you the importance of effort and persistence?  How do you pass on those values to your children?  Share your stories with us.  We’d love to hear from you.




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