Teachers often view student failure as something to be avoided. Whether they're attempting to match texts to readers' skill levels (not too hard, not too easy), or front-loading copious amounts of information in advance of a task, teachers use various strategies to try to spare their students too much struggle.
But what if we're wrong? What if struggle is an inherent part of learning, and removing it interferes with mastery?
Mathematics researcher Manu Kapur (2016) has developed the theory of productive struggle—that attempting to perform a task and initially failing can improve learning. Productive struggle, as Kapur envisions it, occurs in two phases. First, students are given a problem or task that they probably can't solve, and they're encouraged to speculate about possible solutions and experiment. Next, after their initial failed attempts, they receive instruction that will assist them in successfully completing the task, and they are encouraged to try again. In Kapur's studies, students scored better in conceptual knowledge if they were taught in a productive struggle condition than if they were taught conventionally. Giving students opportunities to fail forward resulted in deeper learning.
- Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, Show & Tell: A Video Column / The Importance of Struggle - Educational Leadership, May 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 8
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