As I move through this role as an instructional leader I find myself running into this conversation or witnessing it happen in classrooms – “To save or not to save”. By that I mean are teachers allowing their students to struggle with the math task or are they swooping in and saving them by either doing the thinking for them or helping them too much. As teachers we want all our students to succeed but does it come at a price of their learning? Are they learning if we do the math for them? The answer to that in my opinion is no, they are not learning if we do the work for them or help them too much. This can come in the form of the teacher taking over when a student asks for help or giving math tasks that are too easy in order for everyone to be successful – this is not helping the students.
The idea of making sure the students have the right amount of struggle is not new. I have found reference to it in Van de Walle’s book “Teaching Student Centered Mathematics, Jo Boaler’s new book “Mathematical Mindsets”, and Marian Smalls’ book “Making Math Meaningful”, plus I am sure it is referenced in many other math resources. I have had many conversations with teachers about allowing the students to do the math themselves and picking tasks that will allow struggle and mistakes so the students will develop understanding and learn from their mistakes. It isn’t always the easiest conversation but I feel we are getting better at this and more quality math tasks are being delivered where students are challenged. The reason I wanted to write this brief post was to share a video I found by Robert Kaplinsky on “Product Struggle”. Based on what Boaler shares in her new book we know that students need to be challenged and struggle to help them learn and make new neural connections. The other important part of this is that it has to be in the students productive struggle zone. Meaning it can’t be too challenging for their development level or age. I really like this video of Robert’s from an an Ignite Talk he did where he speaks to what and how we can use productive struggle in classrooms. He also gives some funny analogies that will make you laugh but also think about how absurd it is when we help students too much or do the work for them. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! One final note, please don’t be afraid to let your students struggle or even fail at a math task. It is allowing them to learn and grow as students.