When did struggling become associated with failing? Too often educators hear the waves of “I can’t do it” when a new concept or skill is introduced. Educators are encouraged to challenge students and push students in order to obtain higher student achievement. But when students shut down, how do educators foster the love of a challenge?
Taking the Risk
Some students are not going to be risk takers if the student associates failure of an attempt with a failing grade. Researcher Carol S. Dweck offers a few suggestions in her book, Giving Students Meaningful Work. Educators should create a “growth mindset culture in the classroom” (2010, p. 16-20). In classrooms, this may look like praising the effort and thought process of students instead of the final product. “My research has shown that praising students for the process they have engaged in—the effort they applied, the strategies they used, the choices they made, the persistence they displayed, and so on—yields more long-term benefits than telling them they are ‘smart’ when they succeed” (Dweck, 2010, p. 16-20). Typically, an educator desires for his or her students to be successful. It may be tempting to develop lessons in which students can quickly turn around and demonstrate mastery of skills, but researchers Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey point out, “uninterrupted success can quickly turn into boredom if it's not punctuated with challenge” (2017, p. 85-86). Cultivating a growth mindset takes training; this will not happen overnight. By encouraging students to take educational risks and rise to a challenge, a growth mindset can be developed.
Frustrational Level Versus Think Time
The concept of allowing students to struggle is not to leave students left to flounder, but instead, allow students to push themselves and experience their true capabilities and grow from errors. Educators continually strive to prepare students by providing texts on ability levels or providing countless strategies to utilize in order to demonstrate success. It is okay to let students explore texts above their ability level, or attempt skills and concepts about their grade level. If a student initially fails, it is important to praise the attempt, then as an educator, provide instruction and scaffolds for the student (Fisher & Frey, 2017, p. 85-86). “It is crucial that no student be able to coast to success time after time; this experience can create the fixed-mindset belief that you are smart only if you can succeed without effort” (Dweck, 2010, p. 16-20).
Lead by Example
As an adult, do you tend to shy away from challenging situation? Or tackle it as a learning opportunity? Students need support and the reassurance that struggling is a natural part of life, but some students may never see role models in their lives struggle. The actions educators take are an example to the students. Dweck points out the power of “yet”. When students state they do not understand a skill or concept, educators should respond with “yet” (2010, p. 16-20). When educators reflect on personal struggles and engage in using “yet”, this models to the students that everyone encounters a struggle at some point. Students need to know teachers, too, make mistakes. Educators must encourage “learners to view struggle as a necessary part of learning and growth” (Fisher & Frey, 2017, p. 85-86). When educators simply change their terminology, students can become empowered by failures that will eventually led to success.
As stated earlier, the purpose of struggle is not to leave students to fend for themselves. Educators must be purposeful when designing lessons that will allow for students to struggle in meaningful, authentic experiences. Proper think time is needed for students, and proper assistance and scaffolding is needed from educators. Praising the thought process versus the final outcome is powerful. Simply reminding students of the power of “yet” is impactful. “When students initially struggle or make mistakes, the teacher should view this as an opportunity to teach students how to try different strategies if the first ones don't work—how to step back and think about what to try next, like a detective solving a mystery” (Dwek, 2010, p. 26-20). Students are the detectives and must solve mysteries. This is a simple way of looking at an opportunity for struggle time, but can be so influential in the long run. Students need to realize that a struggle does not mean failure. Embracing the thought process and encouraging students to take risks can enhance the world of education. This is a transferable skill from the classroom to the real world.
Dweck, C. S. (2010). “Giving students meaningful work”. Educational Leaders, ASCD, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Even-Geniuses-Work-Hard.aspx. 16-20.
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. “Lifting school leaders”. Educational Leadership, ASCD, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may17/vol74/num08/The-Importance-of-Struggle.aspx. 85-86.