Topics: Implementation Support

# The Struggle is Real (and Productive)

by Mike Linskey

February 10, 2021

Posted in: Aha! Blog > Eureka Math Blog > Implementation Support > The Struggle is Real (and Productive)

When your students struggle, your instinct may be to jump in and help them. That’s natural. You care about your students, and you don’t want to see them struggle. But struggle—productive struggle—is exactly what students need. Think about other skills students learn: how to ride a bicycle, how to shoot a free throw, how to play a violin. Productive struggle seems natural when you’re learning those things. You fall, miss shots, and play wrong notes. But we don’t discourage the struggle in those activities because we know it leads to learning. Let’s think about learning math the same way.

Productive struggle is the sweet spot of learning.

You’ll come to recognize productive struggle as that point where students are challenged but not overwhelmed. They are pushing at the edge of their understanding where they have access to the problems in front of them and can try something to work on them. They may make mistakes and try different strategies, but they are engaged with the work and can persevere. As you plan and teach your lessons, think about how you can create opportunities for students to participate in the process of productive struggle.

Use Eureka Math® to support productive struggle.

The structure of Eureka Math lessons helps you support productive struggle. For example, Problem Sets in all grades, Kindergarten through Precalculus, are purposely designed to progress from simple to more complex problems. Identify the problems that provide opportunities for productive struggle by completing the Problem Sets yourself. Assign those problems to your students. It’s okay to assign different problems to different students to make sure each one is challenged.

The following Eureka Math lesson components are especially useful for supporting productive struggle.

 A Story of Units® (Grades K–5) A Story of Ratios® and A Story of Functions® (Grades 6–12) Sprints are quick, timed activities designed to develop fluency. The difficulty of the problems increases throughout the Sprint, from simple to more complex. Students typically reach their own productive struggle levels at the end of a Sprint. Exploration lessons are specifically designed to help students reach conclusions on their own through a series of guided questions. Students are encouraged to share their reasoning and discover diverse ways of thinking through conversations with other students. Application Problems require students to apply learning in a new context. Students use previous experiences with similar problems to determine a solution method for a novel problem. Modeling Cycle lessons link classroom mathematics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. These lessons, encourage students to be creative in finding new ways to apply prior learning in unfamiliar situations. The creative process of applying the mathematics is a kind of productive struggle. The Student Debrief is an opportunity to develop productive struggle through conversation as a routine part of your classroom culture. In the Debrief, students discuss their thinking, the successful and unsuccessful strategies they employed, and what they learned from their efforts. Socratic lessons contain sample dialogue between the teacher and the students. The dialogue includes questions that challenge students’ thinking, such as What would happen if you changed something in the problem? What other strategies can you use to reach the same conclusion? How would you defend your answer if someone challenged it?

Maintain productive struggle.

The most effective way to support productive struggle, as simple as it may sound, is to let students struggle. Let them know that it’s okay if they don’t immediately know how to find the answer. This table shows a list of Dos and Don’ts for encouraging productive struggle.