2/20: Due to the predicted snow storm, school be closed on Wednesday

Be an Effort Detective

Often, without realizing it, we can undermine our messages to children by focusing our praise on talent and ability instead of effort. As Thomas Edison put it so eloquently, “Genius is one-percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Edison is right. No Olympic athlete earned a medal on talent alone. No musician earned a Grammy on talent alone. No student earned a 4.0 grade point average on talent alone. They earned it. It takes hard work and practice to achieve goals.

When we praise children’s talent and ability, we place them in a bind. What happens if they don’t consistently achieve at that level? Are they imposters that do not have the talent we attribute to them? Instead of praise of this kind it is better to focus on an area where students do have complete control; effort. When a child does something well, it is better to praise their “perspiration.” Talent only gets us so far. Effort is needed to tackle the challenges we face in our lives.

For most of us providing feedback about effort is new and challenging. It is more difficult to comment on a child’s effort because effort often happens internally or when others aren’t looking. Become an effort detective. Ask questions to learn about a child’s effort. Like a detective asks questions, you can ask questions using these six areas (developed by Jeff Howard) to learn more about a child’s effort in order to praise their work instead of their ability.


  1. Time-How long did it take you to complete this work? When did you complete this work?
  2. Focus-Where did you complete this work? Why? How did you stay focused on the task?
  3. Strategies-What did you do if you ran into trouble? What other ways did you attack this problem?
  4. Resourcefulness-Did you ask for help when you needed it? What resources did you use to tackle this problem?
  5. Feedback– What changes did you make based upon the comments you received? How did you make your product better?
  6. Commitment-When the problem became tough, how did you keep moving forward? Why did you try so hard on this work?


About the Author

Doug Lambe joined Layton School in 2006 as the language arts chair. When Centreville and Layton merged he took on the position of Head of Upper School. During the 2015-2016 school year he added Head of Middle School position. Doug continues to teach language arts and elective courses in the Upper School.

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