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!
Harnessing the Power of Productive Struggle
Math can be challenging for our students at times. However, according to Ellie Cowen in her Edutopia article, Harnessing the Power of Productive Struggle, "teaching that struggling is part of learning math encourages creativity and builds authentic engagement and perseverance." Through this read, Cowen provides teachers with thoughts on how to organize lessons that capitalize on learning and reap the benefits of productive struggle.
Productive Struggle Is a Learner's Sweet Spot
Barbara Blackburn in her ASCD article, Productive Struggle is a Learner's Sweet Spot, contends that "meaningful challenge requires more than simply giving students 'hard work' and leaving them alone." In this piece, Blackburn defines productive struggle and makes a concise argument on why educators must create a learning environment where students are given the opportunity to struggle in productive ways.
How to Support Students’ Productive Struggle
District Administration contributor Matthew Joseph in his article, How to Support Students’ Productive Struggle, discusses the importance of creating a classroom climate where it is okay to make mistakes. Joseph believes that the key to encouraging students to take risks is to create a classroom where falling down is just part of the process of learning. A must read resource for encouraging the growth mindset in students.