Guideline 8: Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

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Many kinds of learning, particularly the learning of skills and strategies, require sustained attention and effort. When motivated to do so, many students can regulate their attention and affect in order to sustain the effort and concentration that such learning will require. However, students differ considerably in their ability to self-regulate in this way. Their differences reflect disparities in their initial motivation, their capacity and skills for self-regulation, their susceptibility to contextual interference, and so forth. A key instructional goal is to build the individual skills in self-regulation and self determination that will equalize such learning opportunities (see Guideline 9). In the meantime, however, the external environment must provide options that can equalize accessibility by supporting students who differ in initial motivation, self-regulation skills, etc.

8.1 Options that heighten salience of goals and objectives

Over the course of any sustained project or systematic practice, there are many sources of interest and engagement that compete for attention and effort. For some students, a significant limitation exists in merely remembering the initial goal or in maintaining a consistent vision of the rewards of reaching that goal. For those students it is important to build in periodic or persistent “reminders” of both the goal and its value in order for them to sustain effort and concentration in the face of attractive distracters.


  • Prompt or requirement to explicitly formulate or restate goal
  • Persistent display, concrete or symbolic, of goal
  • Division of long-term goals into short-term objectives
  • Use of hand-held or computer-based scheduling tools with reminders
  • Prompts or scaffolds for visualizing desired outcome

8.2 Options that vary levels of challenge and support

Students vary not only in their skills and abilities but in the kinds of challenges that motivate them to do their best work. Some students prefer high-risk, highly challenging endeavors, for example, while others prefer safely reachable objectives with predictable outcomes. Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities may fall at either end of that spectrum. Providing a range of challenges, and a range of possible supports, allows all students to find objectives that are optimally motivating.


  • Differentiation in the degree of difficulty or complexity within which core activities can be completed
  • Alternatives in the permissible tools and scaffolds
  • Opportunities for collaboration
  • Variation in the degrees of freedom for acceptable performance
  • Emphasize process, effort, improvement in meeting standards as alternatives to external evaluation, performance goals, competition

8.3 Options that foster collaboration and communication

For some, but not all, students, the option of working collaboratively with other students is an effective way to sustain engagement in protracted projects and activities. The distribution of mentoring through peers can greatly increase the opportunities for one-on-one support. When carefully structured, such peer cooperation can significantly increase the available support for sustained engagement. Flexible rather than fixed grouping allows better differentiation and multiple roles. For other students, especially those for whom peer interactions are problematic, encouraging open lines of communication helps to develop student-teacher relationships that support achievement and engagement.


  • Cooperative learning groups with scaffolded roles and responsibilities
  • School-wide programs of positive behavior support with differentiated objectives and supports
  • Prompts that guide students in when and how to ask peers and/or teachers for help
  • Peer tutoring and support
  • Construction of virtual communities of learners engaged in common interests or activities

8.4 Options that increase mastery-oriented feedback

Assessment is most productive for sustaining engagement when the feedback is relevant, constructive, accessible, consequential and timely. But the type of feedback is also critical in helping students to sustain the motivation and effort essential to learning. Feedback that orients students toward mastery (rather than compliance or performance) and that emphasizes the role of effort and practice rather than “intelligence” or inherent “ability” is an important factor in guiding students toward successful long-term habits of mind. These distinctions may be particularly important for students whose disabilities have been interpreted, by either themselves or their caregivers, as permanently constraining and fixed.


  • Feedback that encourages perseverance, focuses on development of efficacy and self-awareness, and encourages the use of specific supports and strategies in the face of challenge
  • Feedback that emphasizes effort, improvement and achieving a standard rather than on relative performance
  • Feedback that is frequent, on-going, and presented in multiple modalities
  • Feedback that is substantive and informative rather than comparative or competitive
  • Feedback that models how to incorporate evaluation, including errors and wrong answers, into positive strategies for future success

6 Responses to Guideline 8: Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

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  5. Cam Caldwell says:

    I provide students the opportunity to have “coaches” who help them improve their writing skills. I brought the Writing Center Director to my classes to speak to students about how to use the center.

    I provide special skill sheets to use as checklists for students in writing assignments. I am especially timely in getting back to students about their completed work.

    I provide flexible deadlines and even review samples of student work before that work is submitted for a grade.

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