Thursday, March 31, 2016

Constructive Struggle

Constructive Struggle is my favorite phrase in education.

Consider the two words independently then in conjunction: constructive, struggle.

"Constructive" means the "struggle" is valuable.  It's worth the discomfort, the pain, the time.

This is easy to understand in the context of physical fitness and health.  Exercising (struggle!) and making smart food/drink choices (struggle!) result in weight loss, health, and long-life (constructive!).

Similarly, deep thinking (struggle!), questioning (struggle!), and making mistakes (struggle!), all  help us own and deepen our learning (constructive!).

So if the struggle is so constructive, why don't we facilitate it more in education?  I think we avoid it because constructive struggle is uncomfortable (for both the teacher and students) and takes more time.  Perhaps we're tender-hearted, impatient, or both.  Yet just as we would not expect an athlete to compete in the Olympics without training, so we should not expect our students to learn, truly learn, without helping them struggle through challenging content.

Comparative Examples

Student:   Why did that happen? (historical event, chemical reaction, math steps, etc.)
Commonplace Teacher:  It happened because...
Constructive Struggle Facilitator:  What do you think?  What do you know that might help you find the answer?  What do you notice?

Student: How do I start this problem?  I don't get how to do this!
Commonplace Teacher:  Start by doing this...
Constructive Struggle Facilitator:   What do you know?  What could you try?  Does this look like any problems you've solved before?  What are you trying to solve or arrive at in the end?

Workshop Participant: How do I insert an image in this new program?
Commonplace Trainer  Click this button here or choose "Insert > Image."
Constructive Struggle Facilitator: Play around with the tools and menus!  You won't break it.  See if you can discover one of the ways to do it, and maybe discover other tools too.  If you can't find it in a few minutes, I'll come help.

Workshop Participant: This philosophy sounds nice but what about [roadblock xyz]?
Commonplace Trainer:  You can solve that this way...
Constructive Struggle Facilitator: Great question.  Take some time to brainstorm creative solutions then chat at your tables before we chat as a group.

Asking quality questions is an essential component of facilitating constructive struggle (evident in the examples above).  Providing sufficient wait time (i.e. think time for students) is another research-based component.  As the facilitator, you must also provide clear, high expectations and discern the appropriate times to provide support.  (We probably can't answer every student question with another question.)

Conclusion and Charge

The struggle is constructive... it's worth it!  Challenge your students.  Ask them quality questions.  Don't rush to their aid on every difficult problem or task.  Plan and facilitate time for them to think and process.  Do so, and the struggle for you as a teacher/trainer will be equally constructive as it is for your students!

More on Constructive Struggle



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