Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Right Amount of Struggle

July Blogging Challenge -Day 2

Yesterday I was excited to read about and join in on @druinok's July blogging challenge and today I am also excited to join in on #eduRead.  I am constantly reading, especially math and math ed books.  Right now I am reading Guided Math and Building Mathematical Comprehension both by Laney Sammons.  I am also reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and my son's summer reading book, Loser by Jerry Spinelli.  Yeah, I love to read.  I especially love reading things and getting to discuss it with other people reading the same thing.  Last summer I participated in a book study organized by Sherrie at Middle School Math Rules! on Wendy Ward Hoffer's Minds on Mathematics: Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep Understanding in Grades 4-8, learned a ton and it really had a positive impact on how I teach.

The article this week is Faster Isn't Smarter: Messages About Math, Teaching, and Learning in the 21st Century by Cathy L. Seeley.  This is an excerpt from the book, and to be honest, I really want to read the whole thing!  The message I took away from the article is similar to everything I've been reading lately, that we don't offer students the opportunity to wrestle with complex mathematical  problems which is needed in order to develop a deep understanding of the concepts we are trying to teach.  It reminds me of when I was trying to learn to drive a car with a manual transmission.  My hubby (then boyfriend) would let me practice  driving his truck in the empty mall parking lot each week, but I just couldn't get it and never felt comfortable on real roads with real traffic.  Then I found a cute little red Toyota pickup truck that I HAD to have.  Only problem was it was a stick.  I bought the truck and that was it.  I had to learn or I couldn't drive it!  Sure enough it only took me about an hour to get it, and I learned to love it.

Back to students and allowing them to struggle, I admit I am guilty when it comes to sometimes swooping in to save the day and thankfully each year I get better and better about not doing this.  I've learned to answer kids questions with questions in order to lead them out of trouble or towards the answer.  One way of doing this is never picking up a pencil at their desk. It's too easy to say "here let me show you" and just doing the work while they watch.

One thing I highlighted in the article is the line "It turns out that offering students a chance to struggle may go hand in hand with motivating them, if we do it right."  My quest is finding out how to do that.  Last year I dabbled with the workshop model, and that is where I had the most problems, my kids didn't seem motivated or interested in solving the problems.  Its finding that "right amount" of struggle and making sure kids have the tools necessary for completing the task that I need to work on.

I think it also take changing students mindsets and ideas about what should be happening in a math class.  I have found that students think they should be able to immediately see the answer to any problem posed in a math class, just like recalling a multiplication fact.  I'll never forget when one student commented after I had just finished modeling a new concept "Mrs. Nehila, I would have never known how to do that without going over it like we just did."  She was so upset with herself until I asked her "Would you feel better if you knew how to do every concept before I taught it?" and she realized that she would be bored.  Kids need to know that not only is it OK to make mistakes, its also OK to not know how to do something before you learn how to do it!

One of my goals this year is to start the year off by not only teaching kids how to work collaboratively, but also HOW to struggle and to work though problems before we get into the curriculum.


  1. So glad to have you join us tonight! I completely agree with your last statement, I have a similar goal!

  2. Challenging and engaging students to do the hard stuff is very difficult. I continue to struggle and work on this. Thanks for the reading ideas!