Embracing personal struggle in the classroom may seem like a bad idea to some educators, but a great idea to others.
When a school student complains that they find a task too challenging, teachers may stop the task and place that student on another activity instead.
But by persevering through a challenge, those personal struggles may slowly transform into personal strengths.
K-8 Instructional Coach, Shannon McGrath, believes that struggles can be very productive in the classroom.
“In moments when students are not understanding, we often find ourselves trying to explain more clearly. But sometimes, more teacher talk doesn’t offer clarity. When we consistently lean on teacher explanation as a primary teaching tool, we teach our students that we are the dispensers of information and they are the consumers,” says McGrath.
Questioning how students can prevent themselves from being overly dependent on teachers, McGrath believes that providing time to encourage cognitive struggle will spark innovation in students and enable them to carry on with their tasks, without doubt or hesitation, hence why personal struggle in the classroom is often considered a demonstration of persistence.
By learning how to be agile when young, learners may feel ready for the future of work and more confident when it comes to new challenges.
“Shift the script and begin lessons by asking students to experience struggle. Explain what you are doing and how grappling with concepts will help them learn before support is given. In math, use an open-ended problem or provide a solution with a mistake in the work and ask students to analyse the error,” McGrath advises.
Treating struggles in a positive and strategic manner may lead to heightened productivity in schools, inspiring a go-getting group of learners.
Today, I witnessed a student who struggles academically, blossom during #pltw it was so amazing to see him take the lead, be in charge and work with his hands. Without #STEAM in the classroom, we would have never known his strengths. pic.twitter.com/pjoSHROicX
— Andrea Balli (@MsBalliClass) November 15, 2019
On the other hand, encouraging struggle in the classroom may be viewed as inappropriate by parents.
Trusting teachers to help them in times of stress, pushing students to persevere may lead to increased pressure in the classroom.
In some schools, parents may expect teachers to jump in and show learners the way forward, rather than waiting for them to figure it out by themselves.
Depending on the teacher’s educational approach, struggle may also be viewed as a drawback and a factor that slows down the lesson.
“Struggling can be an important part of learning, but at times we expect students to work independently too early, too often, or without any support. When this happens, students often look to the teacher immediately whenever they are unsure, and we end up with teacher dependence.
“Instead, establish a culture where students ask classmates first before asking a teacher,” says McGrath.
An essential part of the learning process, personal struggle is inevitable. So why not teach students to embrace it independently, with each other and with teachers?
After all, a problem halved is a problem solved.