I too made the assumption that my students knew what effort was and that, by the time they got to my high school classroom, they knew that it was one of the keys to achievement. However, what I assumed and what I saw in my own students told two different stories. So I asked them one day "what does it mean to put forth effort?". The common response was "it means you try something". But when I saw what "trying" was to some of my students it looked more like trying escargot than Spanish. They would take a tiny taste, get an awful look on their face, and that would be the end of it. This was not the kind of effort I wanted and it was certainly not the kind of effort that results in achievement.
So, we defined "effort" in a bit more detail.
Effort is... Effort is NOT...
-working on something until it is done -leaving a task incomplete
-continuing to try when something is difficult -giving up when something is not easy
-seeing difficulties or unknowns as opportunities -seeing difficulties as barriers
If you are going to ask your students to reflect on their effort, they need to come to a consensus as to what it is in the first place. This is a great conversation to have on those first days of school and I would not start a year without it.
Once you have established a definition, have students log their effort for tasks during your first unit. At the end of each class, as an exit ticket perhaps, have students give themselves an effort score and an achievement score as follows...
The second part of this strategy deals with providing recognition. The important part here is that the recognition needs to be directly connected to something the student has done to improve his or her achievement. Recognition is far more effective when it is personalized and directed towards the individual (rather than the group or class as a whole). Many teachers have elaborate reward systems in place for students - pesos, and stickers, and stamps, etc. There is nothing wrong with providing concrete symbols of recognition, but again, it should be tied to the student meeting a performance goal.
So what are other effective ways to provide recognition?
-give the student a shout out on social media
-send a positive email or postcard to parents
-hold a one-on-one student : teacher conversation
-add an example of their work to a student work gallery
-give them a special privilege in the classroom (being allowed to charge their phone, sit in the rolly chair, sit on their desk instead of in it - see my FREE Secondary Reward Coupons for more ideas)
-give students badges (similar to what many video games do) for specific language-based achievements such as being able to count from 1-10, say the alphabet, introduce themselves, etc
Here are some of the badges I use for my beginning language students. You can get them HERE.