Developing Mental Effort

Often during writing tasks, students need to concentrate for a long period of time. They must have the mental energy, or "fuel" to keep working on the task. They also must not be distracted while they are working and must avoid making careless mistakes. For some students these challenges can be difficult.

Performing tasks in school requires students to exert varying levels of effort. When students do tasks that are easier or more automatic, less mental effort is required. But success on more difficult the tasks requires students to exert more effort. Mental effort is particularly important when students are faced with activities that may not be especially interesting or highly motivating. The amount of mental effort a student can put forth during writing depends, in part, on the amount of mental energy he/she has. A student with sufficient levels of energy can exert the appropriate levels of effort necessary to successfully complete the many kinds of writing activities in school.

Here are some strategies to promote a student's use of mental effort during writing.

Helpful Hints

  • Adjust the rate, complexity, and/or amount of information students must take in or produce at any one time. For example, provide summary charts, partially completed outlines, or other aides to reduce the amount of mental energy required by students to work with complex concepts, ideas, or activities.  
  • Modify your schedule so that students engage in important and effortful activities during periods of sufficient mental energy. Vary the length of student work periods. Schedule frequent, brief periods of activity, especially after difficult or effortful tasks.  
  • Help students become aware of when they seem to be in a period of lowered effort, for example, use visual or verbal cues or touch a student lightly.  
  • Have students keep a diary or log of the time and specific tasks during which they seem to run out of effort. Students may find motivation in creating graphs that depict their progress in controlling mental effort.
  • Schedule quiet time throughout the day, when students can rejuvenate mental energy. Allow students to use this quiet time to change locations for working on their writing assignments.  
  • Provide assistance when mental effort wanes. For example, pair up students as mental energy buddies to work together, or provide jump-starts for students such as providing a prompt or sentence starter for their story.  
  • Have students write about something they are interested in or enjoy. They could write their own books about the topic. They could start with writing take-offs on stories that he has read. Students could be encouraged to write similar stories on the computer in a large font, illustrate them, and make them into big books which could be read to lower grade children. Reading books they have written themselves could be very helpful.  
  • Use students affinities by having them write about something meaningful to them. Students might like to write to sports stars for photographs and autographs, keep records of sports statistics, or write to companies for catalogs of things that would interest them. When given writing assignments in school, every effort should be made to allow students to choose a topic that is related to something with which they can identify. For example, if the class is assigned to write a report on a European country, students should be helped to choose a small topic related to something they already know about and has some interest in. Students should be encouraged to include illustrations and charts in their reports with appropriately written captions.