Productive Struggle

One of the Mathematics Teaching Practices from NCTM’s Principles to Actions is to support productive struggle in learning mathematics.

What is productive struggle? What does it look like in the classroom? What does productive struggle have to do with The Slow Math Movement? I’ve written before about what productive struggle sounded like in one class that I observed.

In a recent learning experience with mathematics educators, we used the 3-2-1 Bridge visible thinking routine for viewing and reflecting on Robert Kaplinsky’s Productive Struggle Ignite Talk from CMC-South 2015.

Before you watch the talk, what is your initial response to the topic “Productive Struggle”?

  • 3 words/thoughts/ideas
  • 2 questions
  • 1 analogy/metaphor/simile (How you write this is your choice. You might start your sentence with “Productive Struggle is like … “)

Our team of teachers, in 3 words:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.50.05 AM.png

In 2 questions:

  • How do you make a productive struggle activity/question that could be used for the entire class?
  • How do you avoid “”IDK””?
  • How do we motivate a repeating student to engage in the struggle?
  • What do I need to ask the student in order for the activity to be fun and thought provoking?
  • How do I move a student forward if the struggle becomes unproductive?
  • Can we break the problem down into “”easier”” parts and continue making progress?
  • What are some classroom questions that can be used to produce productive struggle in each standard?
  • What are some indicators that the struggle is no longer productive?
  • Did I create a “”headache”” situation?
  • How long do you allow them to struggle before intervening?
  • How long to allow?
  • How long?
  • How much scaffolding is needed for productive struggle not to become overwhelming for students?
  • How much struggle is too much or too little?
  • How often should students engage in productive struggle?
  • My students have the struggle part down, but how do I get the productive part?
  • What are some ways to encourage our students that “”productive struggle”” is worth the effort?
  • What do I know that I can apply?
  • What is the distinction between productive struggle and frustration?
  • What questions do we ask the students to guide them without giving away too much information?

In 1 analogy/simile/metaphor:

  • Productive struggle is like my dad with an iPhone.
  • Productive struggle is like every step on a treadmill.
  • Productive struggle is like finding a tourist attraction using a map instead of GPS; hopefully, you arrive at your location but you learn so much more about the area along the way.
  • Watching successful productive struggle is like watching a caterpillar emerge as a new butterfly
  • Productive Struggle is like potty training a toddler.
  • Productive struggle is like learning to swim
  • Productive struggle is like me trying to keep my cool when the person holding up traffic is on their phone. (major road rage) 🙂
  • Productive struggle is like thinking of similes in math.
  • Productive struggle is like student teaching.
  • Productive struggle is like learning to ride a bike; you have to struggle to learn how to balance before you can ride alone.
  • The teacher is the doctor with the “”magic pill”” to remedy the students’ headache.
  • Productive struggle is like hiking up an extremely steep mountain to get to a magnificent view.
  • Productive Struggle is like trying to find the right combination of flowers for full sun pots in my front yard.
  • Productive struggle is like a road trip with 2 goofy friends and a bad connection to Google Maps.
  • Productive struggle is potty training!
  • Productive Struggle is like me shooting free throws.
  • Bird hatching from an egg. It’s a struggle, but worth it in the end. Without the struggle to break free, the bird can’t survive.
  • S. is what I want my class to be like.
  • Productive struggle is like having a baby. There is a lot of pain in the process, but there are huge rewards in the end!
  • No pain…no gain — for example, in basketball the productive struggle takes place in the form of practice, drills, scrimmages and critique from coach, which all prepare you for the game – success/win!

Now watch Robert’s talk.

What are your new responses to the topic “Productive Struggle”?

  • 3 words/thoughts/ideas
  • 2 questions
  • 1 analogy/metaphor/simile

3 thoughts on “Productive Struggle

  1. Journey, frustration, jubilation

    1) How to observe this productive struggling with all your students without missing the aha moments?

    2) I’m having a tough time translating this expression in French. “Quête progressive”?

    Productive struggling is like figuring out a piano piece you never played before.

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