The Good Part of Learning Struggle

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“When a student struggles with learning, it’s not always a crisis,” says Brad Ermeling, a doctor of education at Pearson’s Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness. “In fact, a large body of research in psychology and math education shows that some forms of struggle are actually productive for student learning.”

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This kind of thinking, in some ways, goes against the grain of how our education system has evolved.

“Students who are always looking for the quick answer are not prepared to persist and struggle with difficult problems,” Brad says. “Learners need to be pushed to think critically, struggle through tough questions, and apply what they’ve learned.”

Brad and a team of scientists are currently working with UCLA researchers to understand the causes and benefits of productive struggle. They want to help teachers and parents be more aware of how these concepts can improve student outcomes.

Tips to Help Learners Who Are Struggling

“Watching students struggle is uncomfortable,” Brad says. “It’s a hard concept to fully embrace and, sometimes, it’s tough to tell the difference between productive struggle and unproductive struggle.”

When a child is laboring over a homework assignment, Brad suggests this approach for parents:

“Try asking general questions like ‘Can you tell me what the question is asking?’ If they can articulate the question, then let them work through the problem. If they’re grasping what the question is asking, then they’re on the right track to figuring out the answer.”

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In this video, Brad shares some additional tips for parents helping their little learners with math: