Sunday, August 28, 2011

Respect the Struggle

In IBL classes, being stuck is a critically important part of the experience for students.  One of the greatest lessons a student can learn in school is how to manage being stuck.

One of the issues we face, particularly in the U.S., is that mistakes are stigmatized, and this context makes teaching problem solving more difficult.  When a student gets a problem wrong it is far too often interpreted as a criticism of their mathematical ability.  Yet, in contrast to this problem-solving ability and creative thinking are highly regarded attributes in all areas of life.

What can we do as teachers?  Students must know that

It's okay to be stuck!

In fact, being stuck is a noble state.  It's when we are stuck that we learn to learn. It's when we are stuck that we construct new ideas, and discard or improve upon ones that are not good enough for our current situation.  Being stuck is good!

One facet of effective teaching is respecting the struggle.  What this means is to allow students to struggle and think, in such a way that they are not stressed out, rushed, or feel that making mistakes is "bad."  Ensuring that students feel that they are allowed to explore, think, experiment, and build ideas that may not work is critical to building a positive learning environment.

Giving away answers or letting students flounder excessively are two ways we can get off track.  As a teacher one should monitor students and manage the struggle so that students are challenged, making progress (over time), and not overly frustrated.

How do you know if you have a positive learning environment in your classroom?  Ask yourself if your students feel it's okay to be stuck.