“Continuous effort– not strength or intelligence– is the key to unlocking our potential."
- Winston Churchill
In this Education Gadfly article, Eva Moskowitz, leader of a charter school network in New York City, says that during the pandemic, students’ “effort muscle” atrophied. As schools have reopened, she’s noticed that kids are putting less effort into re-reading and double-checking. Moskowitz and her colleagues came to that conclusion when they noticed that up to 70 percent of students’ errors on classwork, homework, and tests were the result of carelessness and lack of attention to detail.
Many teachers don’t realize what’s happening, believing instead that when students perform poorly in the classroom, it’s because of knowledge gaps and limited understanding. This leads to a lot of reteaching, which is frustrating for teachers when students don’t put in any effort because they find it boring (they already know it) – creating an unfortunate cycle, says Moskowitz: “Students come to expect re-teaching and don’t exert themselves when they learn things the first time.”
A key post-Covid priority, she believes, is “rebuilding students’ effort capacities,” which requires a mindset shift among teachers. An example: reviewing students’ homework, a teacher notices that many students got a two-step fractions problem wrong. The usual response is to re-teach the fractions concept, but looking more closely at students’ errors reveals that students impulsively answered the first part (correctly) and didn’t take the time to see what the question was asking in the second part. With this understanding, the teacher’s strategy the next day would be to affirm what students did correctly (You know how to do this!) and teach them how to read more closely and understand the whole question before jumping to solve it.
Helping students apply this level of attention to detail and careful problem-solving is
going to be hard work, says Moskowitz: “Teachers must live and breathe the expectation that scholars can get right what they already know how to do, and be absolutely consistent in holding them accountable. The formula sounds simple, but it is challenging.” An underlying problem may be teachers’ low expectations, but when teachers “go for it,” students rise to the occasion, teachers’ beliefs change, and achievement soars.
“Going for it,” says Moskowitz, “means not only having routines for double-checking and re-doing careless work, but also asking students to rethink and try again in classroom discussions when they don’t respond to the question asked, don’t use evidence and reasoning, or repeat exactly what their peers said instead of building on an idea. In such classrooms, students’ behavior shifts quickly and dramatically. They rise to meet the expectation and become focused and highly engaged. They come prepared because they know their lesson moves fast and builds on what they’ve already learned.”