Setting Accurate Expectations About Effort and Deliberate Practice

Setting accurate expectations about effort and deliberate practice is key. Depending on where you are on the spectrum ranging from ineffective to highly effective, the necessity of this habit may or may not come as a surprise.

Most of us have probably experienced the frustration of a student who looks at another student accomplishing something quickly and believing they should be able to accomplish it in the same time period, or else they’re a failure. What students don’t realize (and what some teachers don’t realize either) is how much practice or opportunity another student has had to re ach the level that they're at, and that perhaps opportunity hasn't been afforded to the student who's struggling. Beyond that, entire classes need to struggle as well, an indication that you have set appropriate challenges. While it may sound counterproductive, you need to intentionally create the opportunity for productive struggle.

If you don't set an accurate expectation about the amount of effort and deliberate practice involved in becoming successful, and you allow students to believe that they either are or are not “good at it,” then they disengage. They develop the belief that they lack the natural ability another student has, and they no longer invest in the pursuit. Effort goes down, practice goes down and engagement goes down across the classroom.By way of illustration, let’s take a look at a note a student sent to KnowAtom founder Francis Vigeant. The student’s world choice as he reflects on his time in class is illuminating:

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A note from one of KnowAtom founder Francis Vigeant’s former elementary students, expressing the value of his early science foundation.

By way of illustration, let’s take a look at a closer look at this note a student sent to KnowAtom's founder Francis Vigeant. The student’s word choice as he reflects on his time in class is illuminating:

I just wanted to tell you that everything you taught me has served me so well since my graduation from MHT. I went on to love science at Rye Jr. High School and now, I'm an honors science student at Portsmouth High School. I'm currently a Sophomore and have completed Physical Science Honors, Earth Science Honors, and Ecology Honors. Biology Honors starts next semester for me.

Let’s pause for a moment. From the opening line, many people might assume that this is the perfect student, but in reality, he wasn’t. He was a student like most other students. He had challenges at home like many other students have. You can see this demonstrated in the following paragraph:

I can still remember how I thought your class was so HARD [sic]. And that the format of our science labs was so tedious and boring to use. It turns out that I and many other MHT kids in my class were some of the only kids to have such a strong understanding of the scientific method [referred to as the scientific process by KnowAtom], and how to correctly write a science lab. It has been beyond useful to me, and has allowed me to really take my science classes seriously, and receive great grades as a result. I just learned such excellent critical thinking skills in your classes and I now know that hard work was worth it on those days when I would get so confused with what we were doing and have to really push through. It turned out to be all for the best.

He then goes on to list a host of science honors he has been awarded, and to express that each achievement ultimately stems from the science education he received early, which helped him develop a love of it in middle and high school. Here you can see the full arc of how early science education can transform into students and professionals who can meet the high expectations we initially set for them. The best thing about this letter? It came out of nowhere. The student wrote it of his own accord, because he was so grateful for the foundation he received. This is what it's all about for every teacher (and why a grown man might have shed a few tears while reading it).

“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.”