Productive Struggle Is Productive !

Encouraging productive struggle is helpful to students.

When students encounter some academic challenges, like unfamiliar math problems, it activates the same fear center in the brain that lights up when people see snakes or spiders! Fight or Flight!?

“I’m stupid. I’ll never understand this. This is just too hard.” are the messages posted by the brain which lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubting thoughts. As parents and teachers, let’s change OUR response … encouraging kids to see that struggle and confusion are OK and are not insurmountable. We want productive failure to be the norm, so that instead of the messages: “I stink at this,” they’re thinking, “Okay, I’m stuck. This is normal. I need to do something about it.”

As students engage in productive struggle, set the expectations that being frustrated and struggling is normal. Unlike teachers, parents are less likely to understand the necessity for struggle. They may not see the struggle as beneficial, only as a waste of time. Parents want their children to succeed, so the parents are likely to talk their child through the process, or just provide the correct answer and move on (Russo et al., 2021).

Mothers who helped their children with their homework reported a negative attitude toward the experience. This was caused not by having to help, but because they thought of their child as helpless (Vazquez et al., 2020). This idea is not beneficial to the student or the parent. International Journal of the Whole Child 2021, VOL. 6, NO. 2

Best practices for encouraging students to embrace productive struggle:

1) Ask questions and have students check for reasonableness (why is that? why do you think so? does that make sense?)

2) Don’t rush to help too soon. Allow ‘wait time’ for your child to tinker with ideas.

3) Emphasize hard work and persistence over intelligence.

Terrific handout to print and post: