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How ‘productive struggle’ can lead to deeper learning

By Aoife Dempsey
September 5th, 2014

Aoife Dempsey, chief technology officer at Triumph Learning, shares suggestions for implementing ‘productive struggle’ in your schools

productive-struggle-learningThe new school year provides opportunities to implement fresh learning strategies in the classroom. Some students might struggle getting back into the rhythm of the school year, and others might experience long-term challenges.

To address these needs, consider developing a curriculum that emphasizes “productive struggle.” Here’s what you’ll need to know about making it work in the classroom.

What is productive struggle?

Students can experience productive struggle when given a task slightly beyond their abilities. As educators provide support for tackling a challenging problem through different approaches, they can help build critical thinking skills and develop grit. The objective isn’t necessarily to get to the right answer, but to engage in this process to advance learning and develop perseverance.

Students need a safe environment to take risks and struggle.

It’s uncomfortable to struggle, but struggling—falling down and getting back up—is an important facet to learning. Productive struggle is not about being in pain or becoming frustrated. To help students embrace struggle as part of the learning process, we have to let them know that it’s OK not to know the answer. The goal is to participate in the discovery process. In addition, educators are there to support students when they get stuck.

(Next page: How productive struggle helps students ‘learn how to learn’—and how you can incorporate it into your teaching)