How Can You Foster MORE Student Effort?

brain-based learning

With school underway, I’d like to focus on getting students to work hard in school. Most teachers would say it sounds like a pretty good idea. I can just hear you saying, “Wow, my students just sit there. It would be great if they would put out a world class effort!” Listen; there are powerful reasons that kids don’t put out much effort. Each of the reasons leads to a powerful action step.

The first one is…

* * * * Opportunity Notice * * * *

For staff developers and administrators… Sharpen your skills as a “change agent”. Back again by popular demand is the amazing 3-Day Event called “Game-Changers” found at You can register and attend this career-changing event from February 18-20, 2013 at the Omni San Antonio at the Colonnade, an affordable 4-Diamond Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Please be aware, our 2012 Game Changers event SOLD OUT within weeks. “Early bird” discounts will apply until November 15, 2012 or until we are at full capacity. To learn more about this powerful, career-boosting event, CLICK HERE

If you took any of our workshops this summer and need to present the information back at your school, be sure to go to our website to view our Power Points for purchase. These could make your preparation a lot easier. Go to Considering the value of your time, these are a HUGE bargain at $79 each.


The Research

Here is what the research tells us about effort: there are many causes, each requiring many different solutions. But let’s cut to the chase. Kids who grow up with exposure to chronic and acute stress (without the coping skills) typically have more of a sense of the “world happening to them” (vs. having a strong locus of control). They either display anger (one symptom of a stress disorder) or helplessness (another symptom of a stress disorder) at school.

Research suggests stress specifically impairs attentional control (Liston, et al., 2009). Children living in poverty experience significantly greater chronic stress than do their more affluent counterparts (Almeida, Neupert, Banks, & Serido, 2005). This means you’ll see kids who look like they’re either trying to “get in your face” or trying to “quit on you.” We also know low childhood SES (socioeconomic status) correlates with chronic stress exposure and reduced working memory (Evans, et al., 2009).

The relevance is simple; to engage kids who have had serious adversity (financial or other stress issues), you’ll need to provide a trusting relationship. Trusting relationships with both teachers and other adults are ranked as a top-ten student achievement factor (JA Hattie, 2009). Show kids how much you care first, before they care about you.

Also, you’ll want to provide more of a sense of control for the students in school. Reducing anxiety in kids has a strong correlation with student achievement (0.40 effect size contributing to student achievement). Both relationships and sense of control mitigate the effects of stress disorders. If your kids don’t fit into this particular description, the next paragraph is for you. In fact, the next seven factors are each a separate jewel.

Practical Applications

You can have very active kids this year. Even at the secondary school level, there are kids who are inert in one class and very engaged in another. As a teacher, you have more to do with how your kids behave than you give yourself credit for. Here are seven more strategies, in addition to developing trusting relationships and allowing students to have a sense of control (see above).

  1. Show more passion for learning and your content (the student brain’s “mirror neurons” may get activated by your passion, and mimic your excitement for learning)
  2. Use specific buy-in strategies to hook in students (build relevance)
  3. Make it their idea (inclusion, choice and control)
  4. Lower the risk (making failures part of the learning process and providing better support for ELL)
  5. Build the Learner’s Mindset (“I can grow!”)
  6. Increase Feedback (“It’s the best motivator”)
  7. Stair-step the Effort (Baby steps work)

Your passion will “hook in” more learners than most strategies. Use body language, voice inflection and facial expressions to augment passionate words about the new learning. Additionally, use “buy-in strategies” to build some of the “hooks” that keep students interested. Make it their idea (inclusion, choice and control). Lower the risk (appreciate every hand that goes up and every student’s effort, whether the answer is good or not. Say, “Thanks very much, who else?”) Build the Learner’s Mindset (Tell kids that their brain can change and whatever they did last year, this year can be better). Increase Feedback; it’s the single best motivator. Use affirmations, quality content feedback, peer feedback, mini quizzes, partner-developed quizzes, and verbal feedback from you on their strategy, effort or their attitude. Finally use the stair-step strategy.

When asking students to do a complex activity, have them do it in small parts that are easier to say “yes” to. Yes, baby steps work if you move fast!

Hey… hope you enjoyed this post. Spelling all of these out in much greater detail is outside the scope of this post (they’re all in a new book coming out soon). Remember, there are no lazy or unmotivated students. They’re just giving you feedback about their world and your teaching. If they are not engaged, then change what you’re doing. Don’t get down when kids are down; take on the challenge. This could be the best year of your life.

Build these engagement factors into your own work with a simple system. It’s called lesson planning and it’s free. If you have not yet tested out our new companion website (, be sure to visit when you get the chance. It’s simple, effective and FREE!

What in the World is Eric Jensen Up to This Month?


I completed reading the book The Emotional Life of Your Brain by pioneering emotions researcher Richard Davidson and science writer Sharon Begley. The book had amazing insights about attention, how we change and experience emotions. Truth is, I’m STILL digesting it all. More in future newsletters on the book and topic. For now, it’s a thumbs up!


Hard to believe we are finally back home. The summer was chock-a-block busy for the Jensen’s. In-depth trainings in Jacksonville, FL and Charlotte, NC and of course, in San Antonio, TX. Hope to see you in one of our events next year. I also visited schools all over Texas, plus had great visits to West Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota.


If you work at a Title 1 school and would like to get a complimentary “staff audit” that helps assess the strengths of your staff, please email me. I am looking for extreme schools (top or bottom 25% in student achievement ranking in the state). This staff audit would help you and me.

ALSO: If you have not yet tested out our new companion website ( be sure to visit when you get the chance. It’s simple, effective and free!

Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

Almeida, D. M., Neupert, S. D., Banks, S. R., & Serido, J. (2005). Do daily stress processes account for socioeconomic health disparities? Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60(2), 34-39.
Evans, G. W., Kim, P., Ting, A. H., Tesher, H. B., & Shannis, D. (2007). Cumulative risk, maternal responsiveness, and allostatic load among young adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 43(2), 341-351.
Hattie, JA (2009) Visible Learning. London, UK: Routledge Press.
Liston C, McEwen BS, Casey BJ. (2009) Psychosocial stress reversibly disrupts prefrontal processing and attentional control. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 2009;106:912-917.

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