Learning Focus

December 2020 | Focus: The Productive Struggle

The Productive Struggle

We have all been there. It can be very frustrating when we are working through a complex situation, issue, or problem and the answer is not obvious to us right away. However, we also know how rewarding it feels when we work through that tough situation and come up with a great solution. Learning is not only about getting the answer correct, it is about the process of building skills, knowledge, and awareness as we work through the lesson. Students learn by wrestling with a new skill and becoming better at it through sustained practice.


Think of it this way. Very few people get on a bike the first time and simply ride. We use training wheels, or have someone hold the seat and coach us along the way. Yes, we may fall a few times, but with perseverance and practice we eventually go gliding down the street. School is no different. Like riding that bike, learning at school is full of productive struggle. Productive struggle comes from developing strong habits of mind, such as persistence, thinking flexibly, gathering data, and taking responsible risks.


You improve learning outcomes by helping your students understand that productive struggle is necessary for establishing a growth mindset. At the outset of learning something new, not knowing the answer immediately should be expected. When your students are struggling with a new concept, the key is to encourage them to persevere and not get discouraged if their initial strategies don’t work. The best way to help your students is to ask them what they know and how they know it. From there, just like riding that bike, it becomes about trying different strategies until one works.


This month's Learning Focus is on the power of the productive struggle and how to support your student when the going gets tough!

Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck

Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck

Why Teachers Should Experience Productive Struggle by John Spencer