Going ‘green’: rating your effort

During an AfL session on a recent CPD course, a simple idea was put to us. If you have an ‘in’ tray where children stick written work/books that need to be marked, think about having three such trays instead. Make one red, one orange and one green and get children to put their work into the tray which best fits their confidence and understanding of that piece of work. Nice, I thought. Quick, easy AfL. Just by looking at the in trays I can get a quick and clear picture of the general understanding of that lesson.

The other day, without thinking, I asked them to put their work in the tray that best described their effort instead – I am currently reading Ian Gilbert‘s Essential Motivation in the Classroom and I think it’s having a big impact on me. Anyway, altering the question very slightly from understanding to effort, changed the whole process dramatically.

If you don’t feel confident with what we’ve just been working on (Venn diagrams, if you’re wondering) but you know you gave it best shot, then you should probably go green. If you feel like you really understand Venn diagrams, but you know you weren’t putting your full effort in, then perhaps you need to think about amber or red. Think just about your effort.

Together we described our effort scale like this:

  • Green: you tried your hardest and made a really good effort.
  • Amber: you put in a bit of effort, but didn’t try your best.
  • Red: you really didn’t try very hard at all.

This required real honesty from them and I could tell some felt uneasy about their ‘truth’. I explained this wasn’t about being ‘told off’, it was just to get them to think about how they had approached their work and to imagine what putting in a ‘green’ effort looked like to them. I also admitted that everyone has their amber and red days including myself, which I think helped many to be honest with themselves.

So at the end of that lesson, there were books in the amber and red trays that had never been anywhere near them before, but I think they got something invaluable from it. And I have to say, so did I. As their teacher, if there is a lot of work in the red or amber trays at the end of a lesson, then why is that? Why have some very able children not put in their best effort? Have I given them the opportunity to do that? What can I do to help and encourage more children ‘go green’?

By asking the children to rate their efforts, I am also thinking more about mine.


  • What a brilliant idea. I have been incorporating lots of new ideas in to my classroom following a Shirley Clarke conference, and this is one that I will certainly be adding in. We use traffic lights in books both at the begining and end of sessions, but this is another way that children can be reflective on their learning.

    • Thanks for commenting. I’ve experimented with traffic lighting in books too for children to assess their understanding. I’m sure there’s other ways traffic lights could be used too?

  • Perfect – take a simple idea and apply it simply and it works! Well done and thank you for letting me know

  • Hey Claire,
    I really like that idea. It’s nice because it can be flexible. We use faces in books for self-assessment (understanding) I can see then by putting books in effort trays I would be getting a double hit of self-evaluation.
    I have seen some schools that rate by and ABC-123 for self assessment. Letter for understanding-number for effort (actual letters and digits may be different, but you get the idea) I haven’t tried as our school is pretty hot on consistency across all classes, but your idea allows me a bit of flexibility.
    So thanks! 🙂

  • Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. This is being incorporated into the plan for my new classroom!!

  • Interesting! After reading the same book I got my year 9 boys to grade their homework effort at the end of it, 1 – 5. They were refreshingly honest but depressingly low effort…! Still working through those problems…

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