Supporting Productive Struggle

Supporting Productive Struggle

We need to help our students feel comfortable with struggle to instil persistence. Math is not about “being finished”. We are never finished!  Cognitive science has shown that errors and misconceptions are essential to learning. Everyone will make errors, and they should be seen as a normal part of math learning.


Questions for Reflection

Do I model learning from errors?

Do I demonstrate confidence and respect in my students’ abilities?

Do I avoid praising a correct solution or displaying excitement over an interesting idea?

Do I expect students to persevere to solve mathematical problems?

Do I provide hints but not solutions?

Do my responses encourage the students to keep thinking?

Do I focus on the process, using a “wrong answer” as an opportunity to learn?

Peter Liljedahl’s research1 and work with thinking classrooms promotes active student participation and engagement while working collaboratively on well-designed tasks that include a productive struggle.  The teacher’s role is to establish a positive environment where students are encouraged to engage in struggle and collaborate, and creativity is both celebrated and required.

Mathematics is learned when students are engaged in strategic play with mathematical concepts and differing perspectives. 

SK Ministry of Ed, 2010, p. 23

Interactions between students and teachers can impact student achievement.  Meaningful feedback, mathematical mindset messages and positive relationships contribute to the success a child will experience.  When these relationships include an opportunity to fail, an opportunity to struggle, an opportunity to contemplate, and an opportunity to celebrate success, a student can develop important skills in math including problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and persistence, among other important traits and behaviours.

1Liljedahl, P. (2020). Peter Liljedahl. Retrieved 5 July 2020, from

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