Finding #2: Students who are challenged & supported have better outcomes.
Productive struggle, as it is called in the research, focuses on the effortful practice that builds long-term understanding.
Important to this process are opportunities for choice, collaboration, and the use of materials or topics of interest (which will be discussed later).
This productive struggle also helps students build flexible thinking so that they are able to apply previously learned skills to new or unfamiliar tasks (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
“Meaningful learning tasks need to challenge ever student in some way. It is crucial that no student be able to coast to success time after time; this experience can create the belief that you are smart only if you can succeed without effort.”
It is also critical to provide support and feedback during the challenging task (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007). This prevents frustration and fear of failure when the goal seems out of reach or when a particularly challenging task arises.
Simple ways to build productive struggle into your math classroom
Giving students a chance to struggle with challenging word problems is critical to building both their confidence and skills. However, this challenge must be reasonable or the learner's self-esteem will falter, and students need support and regular feedback to achieve their potential.
Here are a few simple things to try:
- Select problems that are just at the edge of students Zone of Proximal Development.
- Scaffold or model with more challenging problems to support risk taking.
- Give regular feedback & support – go over the work and discuss daily.