Promoting Student Effort & Success With Goals

If effort counts twice, then it becomes even more crucial to create situations in which students want to expend it. In this blog article, we will discuss the link between effort and success by taking a look at how to encourage it, the role of goals in the classroom, and how to create the kinds of challenges that set students up for achievement and meaningful contribution in later life.

Encouraging Student Effort in an NGSS-Aligned Classroom

You may have heard the phrase "task predicts performance," and it's absolutely true. If you develop a lower-level thinking task, then the best thing that you can expect out of that is lower-level thinking. On the other hand, if you design tasks that require lots of effortful thinking in conjunction with a clear benefit to engaging in that effort, you will spur students to much higher levels of thinking.

Lab planning is a good example of this. When students plan their own investigations first and are then are allowed to carry out their own plans in a hands-on fashion, they are much likelier to engage with effort. As a teacher, you can coach them in the planning process as well as in how they carry out those plans.

Whether students have lots of talent or only a little bit of talent will change the rate at which those skills develop and the amount of effort that's required, but by creating the kind of culture in which effort has a benefit, you will inevitably see student skill develop. That skill, along with that culture of effort, is going to produce achievement.

It's important to recognize that the science and engineering practices are the skills required to develop and use science, engage as scientists and engineers, and meet the next generation performance expectations. Once students are used to using those skills in a meaningful STEM context, they will be more and more equipped to engage with unfamiliar situations. We can successfully use this foundation to encourage even greater levels of effort in future.

Of course, we can't encourage grit and effort if we don't successfully set goals for students to strive toward. Let's turn our attention now to the types of goals we might set up in the classroom and how each type affects student effort and learning.

The Role of Goals in Effective Science Education

The question as educators becomes this: How do we encourage effort?

Because that's the thing: Effort is tough. It takes energy and focus. As teachers, we must encourage effort in students in three different ways:

As educators, how do we encourage effort?

Educators can encourage effort by taking a different approach to each type of goal: low-, mid-, and high-level.

The first step is to let go of low-level goals. For instance, don't keep the butterfly activity if it doesn't really serve a purpose. If it's only a flash in the pan because students "like it," that's not a good enough reason to keep it as part of your curriculum. If it doesn't align well to our high-level goals, it's not useful. Regarding mid-level goals, we need to be willing to adjust those as well so that they also match up to our high-level goals. And lastly, we need to set the right high-level goals.

K-12 science goals

Top-level goals are the end goals, mid-level goals support those, and low-level goals provide a means to a mid-level end.

It's important to understand the role these types of goals play in relation to one another. A top-level goal is our end goal—what we want to have achieved at the end of the day. Our mid-level goal is what we need to do to get to that high-level goal. Low-level goals are a means to achieving those mid-level goals.

So let's say our high-level goal is to develop student's creative, evaluative, and analytical thinking skills, because those are skills that are useful for any college or career choice in any discipline. In that case, one of our mid-level goals should be to place students in the role of scientists and engineers and to support educators in doing that in a full inquiry environment. That environment must include a full release of responsibility and daily opportunities to put in effort, see purpose, make connections, and develop skills. The low-level goals—the exact materials we use, content we engage, and vocabulary we employ—are all malleable. They can change according to the situation, as data comes in from the field, as standards change, and as different materials and technology become more available, less expensive, or more appropriate for application at a K-12 level.

With that in mind, let's return to the butterfly example. Releasing butterflies or ducks in the spring is fun for children, but if the fun doesn't actually serve a purpose that helps us achieve high-level educational goals, then ultimately it's not a good idea. When it comes to placing students in the roles of scientists and engineers, there are many other ways to do that. There are many other ways to help them learn these subjects, pass tests, and graduate. We'll cover some of these ways in our next blog article.

“Growing up, I wanted to be an inventor, solving problems that would help people have better lives. Every day at KnowAtom is an opportunity to invent solutions that give thousands of students and teachers a better experience doing science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Providing educators with professional satisfaction and students with the opportunity to understand the world we live in is my way of helping people have better lives.”