That productive struggle thing

Posted on April 10, 2017


David Wees has gone and tweeted about it again, and I share his concern for the phrase.

I think it just might be worth ceasing and desisting in trying to reduce the idea to words like struggle. I’ve seen non-productive struggle, LOTS of it.   These are the situations where yes, eventually the thing gets solved but the student is just relieved that it’s over, like a nasty voyage with seasickness.   They’re even less prepared for future struggles because they have an even stronger association of math with confused pain.

What if we taught about cognitive dissonance?   I include in my silly powerpoints how kids call everything a dog at first if we tell them that’s what that creature is… until they learn about goats and moose (or cats).   The rules don’t change, but our understanding deepens.   Can’t we integrate that into the lessons?  Can’t we give language to what’s happening?   Isn’t leaving out the language a huge part of why we don’t know why we got it right this time?   Isn’t language a huge part of transferring?

I mean, I know this student completed the ALEKS lessons about multiplying by 100 and moving the decimal two places.   Still, when s/he’s confronted with figuring out what percent 180 is over 250 (well, first s/he just put 180 down there)… .72% then?   Move decimal where?   It was very much the “which ritual do I perform,” though talking meaning helped a ton.

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