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Setting the Stage for Productive Struggle in Your Classroom

0 Heart it! Maverick Puah 55
October 22, 2018
Maverick Puah
0 Heart it! 55

When students aren’t engaged, they tune one. As a teacher, this is the last thing that I want for my
class. That’s when I discovered the method of ‘positive struggle’ in the classroom.

A productive classroom struggle is beneficial for students because it goes beyond simply memorizing lessons or cramming for information. The standard method of teaching leads to students forgetting the information quite quickly. On the other hand, a productive struggle requires effort and persistence, which build lasting knowledge and boosts self-esteem.

Staging a classroom for a productive struggle may sound like unnecessary punishment for students, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Research shows that positive struggle enhances learning capabilities and improves self-regulation.

Curating productive struggle has contributed positively my student’s emotional, social, and academic success and can for yours, too!

Developing a Challenging Curriculum

Teachers and students can both agree that a success tastes that much sweeter when it’s worked for.

In order to challenge my students, I had to prepare their curriculum carefully. To do this, I had to have an idea of what their interests were and create a lesson plan that promoted critical thinking and concentration.

An important aspect to keep in mind when developing a curriculum for the year is that students should be given opportunities to fail.

To be clear, I would never purposely allow a student to fail a class. I would, however, allow them to be deeply challenged. When a child fails at understanding a problem, it gives him or her a bigger drive for success. They will try harder to understand where they went wrong.

This is a beneficial lesson for students both for academic and personal success.

Make Learning Relevant

In order to engage my students, I knew I had to include their interests. I quoted popular shows when it was relevant to do so, I used memes to make a point, and I answered questions honestly.

For example, if you teach history, explain why learning about a specific event can benefit your student’s outlook and behavior in life. Perhaps stressing the importance of accepting other cultures, being kind to others, and standing up for what you believe in.

If you teach mathematics or programming, tell your students about the amazing jobs they could get one day if they apply themselves. Video gameplay programmer or building robots, to name just a few.

The more relevant a subject is, the more excited students will be about the material.

Positive Struggled Creates Unity

Being challenged in the classroom may be for the greater good, but it isn’t easy. One of my students was having trouble with the challenging lesson plan. She shrugged her shoulders, unwilling to participate for fear of being made fun of for answering a question incorrectly.

After speaking to her privately, I reminded my class that they were operating as a unit and sharing in the same struggle. This made them feel supported by one another and allowed them to feel safe if a temporary failure occurred.

By the end of the year, my unwilling student’s mindset had completely changed. She was willing to struggle through a problem and was determined to overcome it. That persistence helped her to boost her confidence. She told me she loved my class because there was always a sense of cooperation and togetherness.

We Must Be Observant of Student Struggles

A struggle is just as it sounds – a strenuous effort to achieve something! It isn’t meant to be easy.

In order for my challenging classroom environment to be beneficial, I knew I had to ensure a positive struggle was happening and not a negative one. I had to pay close attention to how each student was reacting to our new lesson plan..

Respond Positively/Be Enthusiastic

Research published in the PLOS Journal found that children who received non-generic feedback outperformed all others involved in the study. This highlights the importance of positivity in the classroom. It also notes the benefits of getting to know students to give personalized feedback.

It was clear to me that without positive feedback, the productive struggle in my class could quickly turn destructive. The last thing I wanted for my students was for them to feel unsupported, embarrassed, or unable to see the goal of the lesson clearly. Students won’t thrive in such an environment.

It was my job to ensure there was positive and enthusiastic feedback being given regularly. I congratulated students when they achieved a goal and took a genuine interest in the way they chose to solve the problem at hand.

Doing these things helped keep my students motivated to learn.

Benefits of a Challenging Classroom

As teachers, we light up when we see our students overcoming problems and succeeding academically. I have personally seen this over and over again in my classroom when I started instituting a positive struggle with my students.

A positive struggle in the classroom builds perseverance and teaches students to learn from their mistakes. Of course, students are bound to feel frustrated at times with the work. But in the end, they will feel proud of themselves for solving problems and completing their lessons.

Here are just some of the benefits of a positive struggle I have personally witnessed in my classroom.

Students Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Lesson

The purpose of a productive classroom struggle is to create authentic engagement. After taking the time to challenge my students, I noticed a rise in class participation. When I asked a question, suddenly I was flooded with different ideas for how to solve a problem or come up with an answer.

When done right, a productive struggle results in enhanced thinking abilities. My students were no longer reciting words from their textbook, they were gaining knowledge and understanding of why and how the answers came to be.

Positive Struggle Promotes Critical Thinking

As teachers, it’s our job to make sure that creating positive struggles in the classroom promotes critical thinking. After all, everyone thinks differently.

I encouraged my students to look for different methods for problem-solving. Students should feel free to solve a problem and experiment with learning and understanding in a way that makes sense to them –
so long as the answer is correct!

Boosts Self-Confidence

As a teacher, it was difficult for me to allow my students to struggle. It’s deeply ingrained in us to help our students when they are having a hard time. But, my fellow academics assured me that avoiding the temptation to solve a puzzle for my students would result in boosted confidence.

A productive struggle breaks the stereotype that there is only one correct way to solve a problem. It also forces students to work for the answer instead of taking the easy way out. This builds student-confidence.

As teachers, it’s our job to pay attention to our student’s individual needs to ensure there is a positive struggle happening, not a negative one – Reminding the class that everyone is participating in the same struggle will help create a sense of unity and motivation.

Author Bio: Maverick Puah is a top H2 Chemistry tutor in Singapore and has been conducting JC & IP Chemistry classes to hundreds of students since 2010. He was a PSC Teaching Scholar and ex-MOE JC Lecturer with more than 10 years of teaching experience.

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