Don’t Steal The Struggle

Last weekend, I published a blog post in which I shared some notes that Anne-Marie Tipping, a fantastic Grade 8 teacher at my school, shared with me after attending the OAME Conference. In our discussion last week, Anne-Marie spoke of Ben Hazzard’s presentation. One key point of Ben’s is that as teachers, we need to let students struggle. We shouldn’t “steal their struggle.” It is through this struggle that they learn.

I really thought of this when designing one of my math problems for this week. My Grade 1’s and 2’s are finishing off a unit on fractions, while my Grade 1’s continue to review addition and subtraction, and my Grade 2’s continue to review multiplication and division. I wanted to create a math problem that would get the students thinking, that would allow for multiple entry points depending on the needs of the students and the two different grades, that would produce multiple solutions, and that would allow the students to apply many different things that we’re learning or have learned in math this year.

Here’s what I came up with:

Students worked in partners to solve this problem. They could use any resources in the room that they wanted to help them out. Here’s what I said to them before they got started:

1) This problem is a challenge. I can’t even think of all of the possible solutions, and there are definitely lots of them.

2) It’s okay to struggle. If you find this hard and make some mistakes first, this shows how much you’re learning. Don’t give up. Keep on trying!

This is exactly what the students did. The amazing thing is that not one group of students came to me for help, nobody gave up, and everybody got at least one answer that made sense. Students made lots of mistakes, but everybody persevered. For our Math Congress, I shared these three different solutions with the class:

One Possible Solution

Another Possible Solution

A Third Possible Solution

Students then discussed the different answers and how they came to such different conclusions. Unfortunately, the batteries in my flipcam died in the middle of the second explanation, but below is a video of at least part of our Math Congress. Please note that the last two students in the video did figure out the answer to the different questions on their own, but just after the battery died. 

Seeing the various solutions and hearing the different groups’ explanations show me how much they understand about fractions, addition, and even multiplication. Letting the students struggle throughout the process though, helped them truly understand the content, and take ownership over their learning as well.

This makes me think, how do you let the students struggle while still supporting them in their learning? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


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