Productive struggle and essential feedback

How might we teach and learn more about perseverance? I wish we could rephrase the first Standard for Mathematical Practice to the following:

I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.

Just the simple exchange from problems to tasks make this process standard a little more global for learners.  What if we encourage and expect productive struggle?

Some struggle in learning is good, but there is a key distinction to be made between productive struggle and destructive struggle.  Productive struggle allows students the space to grapple with information and come up with the solution for themselves. It develops resilience and persistence and helps students refine their own strategies for learning. In productive struggle, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; learning goals not only are clear but also seem achievable. Although students face difficulty, they grasp the point of the obstacles they face and believe that they will overcome these obstacles in the end.(Jackson and Lambert, 53 pag.)

How might we make a slight change during the learning process to challenge our learners, to promote productive struggle, to persevere, and to learn, through experience, critical reasoning?

But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash. The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.  Painters, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, chiropractors, accountants–we all fail far more than we succeed. (Godin, n. pag.)

What if we reframe “failure” as productive struggle and perseverance?

  • Level 4:
    I can find a second or third solution and describe how the pathways to these solutions relate.
  • Level 3:
    I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.
  • Level 2:
    I can ask questions to clarify the problem, and I can keep working when things aren’t going well and try again.
  • Level 1:
    I can show at least one attempt to investigate or solve the task.

We cannot emphasize enough the power of feedback. Given the right kind of feedback, struggling students can gauge how they are doing and determine what they need to do to get to mastery. It can help students quickly correct their mistakes, select a more effective learning strategy, and experience success before frustration sets in. (Jackson and Lambert, 68 pag.)

How might we highlight many paths to success? What if we make paths to success visible enough for learners to try, risk, question, and learn?

When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them.   And if abilities can be expanded – if change and growth are possible – then there are still many paths to success.” (Dweck, 39 pag.)


Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. 39. Print.

Godin, Seth. “Seth’s Blog: Fear of Bad Ideas.” Seth’s Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.

Jackson, Robyn R. (2010-07-27). How to Support Struggling Students (Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching series). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.

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