Creating Hard-Working Students: Effort Tracking

At the beginning of my teaching career I, like the majority of teachers, struggled with behaviour management.  The students looked straight through my facade of calm experience and saw me for the trembling, terrified novice that I was. I don’t blame them for exploiting this: in the same situation, I would have done the same!

Similar issues crop up time and time again with new teachers; their inexperience means that they struggle to create an atmosphere in which students are pushed to work hard and learn.

In this post, I will share something that I developed to help engender an atmosphere and expectation of hard work and effort in more difficult classes.  It is something that I have also shared with all my trainee teachers who have found it effective in dealing with the often crippling lack of a “work ethic” in some of their trickier groups.

When the behaviour in a class starts getting tricky, I think that the resilience and effort of the students – even ones who are not directly involved in any of the bad behaviour – are two of the things that fall by the wayside first.  The ideas here are also useful for getting across to students the idea that time is precious and that wasting time, both for themselves and for others, is a serious thing.

In essence, the system is pretty simple, although I think that for the students to buy into it the set-up is important.  First you need to share exactly what ‘effort’ means.   I showed a video given to me by David Didau at a training event that he ran.

After a discussion about how this relates to effort, in which the students pointed out that by not trying this close to the exam they were in many ways similar to the people stuck on the escalator, I said that this was why I was introducing some expectations about their effort in class.

The expectations that I introduced are as follows:

What does effort mean?

1.Non-stop work when asked

2.Make progress every lesson

3.Try hardest at all times

4.Do not distract other students from making their best effort

These are completely replaceable, however what I like about them is that while 1 and 4 are objective (students either do or do not meet the expectation and there can be no discussion about it) 2 and 3 are more subjective and allow the teacher some room to reward or penalise for more fine-grained and debatable issues.  One example of this is a student who rushes through all their work at the last minute so has evidence of work within their book, and yet you as the teacher know that it is not their best effort, no matter what they say.  You can easily say that while they completed their work, they were not trying their hardest at all times. It is useful to have some room for qualitative and subjective judgements about effort to ensure that students don’t find loopholes in the system.

Each lesson, you use a spreadsheet to track each students’ effort against the criteria.  The tracking system works as follows: gives students a green for if they entirely met each of the expectations, a yellow if their work and effort was satisfactory but you know they could do better and a red if they did not meet the expectations at all.  This spreadsheet is then displayed and discussed at the beginning of the lesson to remind students of how they did last lesson and at the end for your judgement of each students’ effort.

I attached the following rewards and sanctions to the system:

1) If the students get three greens in a row, they get a call home to say how well they have been doing

2) If they get a yellow, they are on a ‘notice to improve’.  Two yellows in a row automatically becomes a red, leading to a call home.

3) A red leads to a call home to register concern with a parent.  Two reds leads to a parent meeting, the seriousness of this measure merited by the fact that the student in question has wasted two whole lessons of their exam preparation time.

These rewards and sanctions are of course completely subject to your own preferences.  Mine are quite severe in this instance because I ran this system with an exam group with a looming deadline.  As a result, I wanted to get across that we really could not afford lessons where effort was not at 100%.

Below is a screenshot of my spreadsheet for the class in question, with the names removed.  You can see that most instances of yellow became a green in the following lesson, while in every case a parent meeting (two reds) led to improved effort in the following lessons.  This might not seem that impressive, but this really was a challenging class!  It also allows you to see really easily who the most challenging students are, the ones who could potentially be a real negative influence on the group, and act swiftly with parental contact to nip any issues in the bud early on.


This system has really worked in moving a class in which the majority of students would get very little done in the course of a lesson to a class with a much more hardworking mentality.  In particular, students who are on either yellow or red are desperate to ensure they get a green the next lesson, and then will put in considerable effort in class to get a good phone call home to counteract the bad call.  It is the kind of system I wish I had in place in my first year of teaching which is why I shared it with all the first and second year trainees in my school this year.

The tracking spreadsheet and PowerPoint I used to share it with my class are below:

Effort resources Effort Tracking Spreadsheet



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