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  • Productive struggle

    Posted by Martha Muraira on May 28, 2019 at 11:39 am

    I sometimes use low floor/high ceiling activities in my class. I still find some students giving up right from the start. Any suggestions or strategies?

    Katrien Vance replied 3 years, 5 months ago 3 Members · 3 Replies
  • 3 Replies
  • George Garza

    May 29, 2019 at 3:26 am

    This type of behavior is of course the bane of math teachers everywhere, it is one of the reasons I started looking into problem based learning.  Without knowing any details, the two biggest reasons that students just don’t try come down to teacher responsiveness and classroom culture.

    Are you quickly jumping in and trying to help them?  If you are too quick to help the students then you deprive them of the opportunity for the productive struggle.  I typically help my students by suggesting a different perspective for them, maybe a drawing or a rephrase of the question, I absolutely avoid breaking down the problem for them or doing anything tot simplify the problem for them if I can at all.

    If they won’t even start the problem, what is the culture in your classroom like?  Are students praised for working, struggling and making mistakes, or are they praised for getting right answers?  Is the expectation clear to those students that you believe they can master the content and beyond, and that they have ideas and insights that are valuable to the class?

    As I’m writing this, a third possible cause comes to mind: you said you sometimes use these low floor/high ceiling tasks, this implies to me that you don’t normally.  These open type of tasks have a way of scaring students in that they are very different from what is usually asked of them.

    Kyle and Jon answer a question similar to yours in the MMM podcast, episode 25.

    I don’t have much real world experience to offer for on the spot corrections except that I’ve had luck in the past with leveraging my relationship with the student to get them to work when they wouldn’t normally.  This was done with a simple conversation where made I reinforced my expectation that students at least try their work, but making sure I show concern for the students well being.  Sometimes the student that just doesn’t want to work has a legitimate reason to feel that way, most of the time they are trying to save face, or don’t want to be bothered with tedious work (This was before I discovered inquiry learning)

    There’s my thoughts on the topic, hope something in there was helpful.

    Please let us know if you manage to get the kids working, and what you think did the trick.  In fact, if you get the kids working, that’d be something to put in the wins subforum.


  • Martha Muraira

    June 5, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you, George!

    I think my two main problems are jumping into helping my students and trying “sometimes.” I’m not consistent, and my students need to develop the skills to embrace the challenge. I don’t provide enough opportunities.  That’s one of the reasons I’m here!

    I’m looking forward to revamping my course for next year. I’m in the last weeks of the semester and time is going by so fast! I’m also starting the mini-courses and checking the forums for ideas and feedback.


  • Katrien Vance

    June 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Something that worked for me was to let my students know, right from the start, that they didn’t know how to do what I was asking (when that was true). I also let them know I did NOT have a right answer in mind–and you have to be really honest with them and yourself about that.  I found that when I declared, “You don’t know how to do this,” they were free of all worry about it and were willing to try things, instead of trying to “remember” something they thought they were supposed to know.