Jo Boaler, a revolutionary researcher and math educator, says that struggle is critical to mastering a skill or concept. When we sense discomfort in our classrooms, we can be quick to explain and provide steps to follow. But removing the struggle for students also removes the cognitive heavy lifting that leads to deep learning and understanding. 

Shift the script and begin lessons by asking students to experience struggle. Explain what you are doing and how grappling with concepts will help them learn before support is given. In math, use an open-ended problem or provide a solution with a mistake in the work and ask students to analyze the error.

In other subjects, use brain research to encourage students to persevere through writer’s block or try a task for a second or third time. Shift your classroom culture so that getting stuck is valued over getting the right answer right away.  

Reduce Teacher Talk Time

In effective classrooms, students see themselves as their own teachers, and teachers know the impact that their strategies have on students’ learning.

A few simple strategies can help shift the teacher from lecturer to facilitator: 

Use Questions Instead of Explanations

When students have difficulty with comprehension, our instinct is to consider how we can explain more clearly. Instead, consider ways to frame questions to encourage cognitive work of understanding. Keep a list of questions to turn to when in front of your class or working with a small group. Simple questions can facilitate deeper learning: 

Slow Down and Observe

Dedicate a chunk of time to observing student learning. Give your students a differentiated complex task, watch, take down data, and ask questions. Slowing down and watching students helps gather evidence of learning for planning your next steps. Use your observations to answer the questions, “What can my kids do right now? Where might they need to be pushed to next?”

Create a chart with student names and particular behaviors you might observe (e.g., zoning out, engaged, fake reading, collaborating). Throughout class, mark what you notice in each student. Use this data to plan engagement mini-lessons or conferences. Note particular behaviors such as “perseveres when problem solving” or “tries a variety of solutions.” Observing students and noting what they need can better inform your next steps to move toward student ownership.

Provide Non-teacher Scaffolds

Struggling can be an important part of learning, but at times we expect students to work independently too early, too often, or without any support. When this happens, students often look to the teacher immediately whenever they are unsure, and we end up with teacher dependence. Instead, establish a culture where students ask classmates first before asking a teacher. Try some simple non-teacher scaffolds:

Reducing teacher talk, asking questions instead of providing explanations, observing students, and providing non-teacher scaffolds engage students in their own learning. Purposefully focusing on doing less so that students do more will push your students toward doing the heavy lifting of learning.

IDoNotKnowHowToo!How ToEducation,Educational psychology,Formative assessment,Instructional scaffolding,Learning,Pedagogy
Jo Boaler, a revolutionary researcher and math educator, says that struggle is critical to mastering a skill or concept. When we sense discomfort in our classrooms, we can be quick to explain and provide steps to follow. But removing the struggle for students also removes the cognitive heavy lifting...