The Five Elements of Effort

Have you noticed a difference between how we assess student performance and how we assess student effort? We tend to use more formative assessment methods for performance and more summative assessment methods for effort.

Let me explain. In my experience, most schools evaluate student effort using a linear scale from low to high or unsatisfactory to excellent. Alternatively, they may use rubrics to describe a list of student behaviours and call that “effort”.

Both methods are usually employed in a summative way based solely on teacher judgement. The closest we come to a formative assessment of effort is when we ask students to put in “more” effort.

When we understand so much about the positive impact of effort and formative assessment on student performance, it’s interesting to ask – why don’t we use more formative methods of assessment for effort?

I think the problem is many teachers don’t know how to answer these three basic formative assessment questions when it comes to effort:

  • What is to be learned?
  • How is learning progressing?
  • What will be learned next?

Try answering them now. You could ask your colleagues to discuss them at your next staff meeting.

How confidently and comprehensively can you describe what is to be learned about effort? How would you gather data to identify student progress? And how would you set learning goals to help students get better at effort?

Traditionally, effort has been one of those hard-to-define aspects of learning. We simply “know it when we see it.” However, this lack of clearly defined parameters isn’t helpful if we want students to get better at effort.

So, to become more formative in our assessment, I’d like to introduce you to the Five Elements of Effort, which I believe teachers and students should know, understand and get better at so students can become more efficacious learners.

This article is by no means a comprehensive exploration of the Five Elements, but it is intended to get you thinking about how you might shift the way you talk about effort in your school.

  1. The Learning Zone

 Students need to become good at identifying their Learning Zone – the point just beyond their current abilities where they are stretched and challenged. When talking to students about effort, we should question how freely they enter their Learning Zone, how effectively they can identify this zone for themselves and how often they seek it out.

  1. Learning behaviours – Habits of Mind

 To succeed in the Learning Zone, students need powerful Habits of Mind. This means they must be able to recognise, apply, improve and become increasingly self-directed and self-assessing in relation to their Habits of Mind.

  1. Mistakes

Learning is almost always accompanied by mistakes. Helping students become more efficacious learners involves nurturing their relationship with mistakes. How prepared students are to make mistakes, how they respond to mistakes and how they use them as part of the learning process is critical.

  1. Feedback

 We can offer students feedback, but how they use it is another matter. Learning to accept, identify, respond to and use different types and sources of feedback is an essential aspect of becoming a more efficacious learner.

As we support students to develop their effort, we need to engage them in reflection about how they not only use feedback, but learn to request and tailor feedback to their specific learning needs.

  1. Distribution of effort

The Effective Effort Matrix describes four different types of effort:


Effective Effort Matrix

Different tasks demand different types of effort. It’s not a matter of asking students to be in “Effective Effort” all the time; rather, it’s a case of learning to discern when different types of effort are required.

These five elements give us an effective framework for discussing effort with students. They allow us to become increasingly formative in our assessment of effort and, ultimately, assist teachers in guiding students to become more effective and efficacious learners.



If you’d like to know more about how to use this framework in the assessment of effort at your school, let me know by return email and I’ll get in touch.


James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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One Comment

  • Catherine Dalley November 30, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    I’m interested in learning how to introduce this idea to 10 year olds

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