The Struggle is Real: Examining Math Educators' Sense-Making of Productive Struggle

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Malone, Andrew, Curriculum and Instruction - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Wheelock, Matthew, ED-CISE Department, University of Virginia

Scholars and practitioners have long suggested that intellectual struggle plays an important role in learning processes (Clifford, 1984; Dewey, 1910; Murdoch et al., 2021). However, research indicates that complex, contextual factors influence the degree to which, and the ways in which, struggle benefits learning (Lee & Anderson, 2013; Tobias & Duffy, 2009). “Productive” struggles can be defined as temporary short-term failures that nevertheless promote longer-term learning aims (Kapur, 2008, 2016). This Capstone project examined the phenomenon of productive struggle at Modern Careers High (MCH), a Bronx-based charter high school (pseudonym). MCH faculty described a problem of practice wherein they desired more confident, cohesive approaches for interpreting and responding to students’ struggle episodes. To support MCH, I designed and enacted a qualitative case study to investigate how a subset of the faculty, the Algebra I teachers and instructional coaches, make sense of (a) the relationship between struggle and learning; (b) the nature of productive struggle; and (c) the process of struggle mediation. My findings suggest that participants’ individualized sense-making systems informed their conceptualizations of struggle. Moreover, Algebra I team members displayed noteworthy similarities and differences in how they perceive and mediate student struggle. I recommend a concrete process by which MCH faculty can reflect and act upon the findings to develop a more conscious, deliberate plan for advancing the quality of struggle-rich instruction in their school.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
productive struggle, productive failure , sense-making, constructivism , instructivism, assistance dilemma , scaffolding
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