Principal Musings…May Edition

Hello WHS,
I hope that this spring weather and longer daylight has us all thinking of warmer days ahead.  I am sure you feel as I do that our year has gone by much too quickly.
My monthly musings this year have focused on growth mindset and grit factor.  Another term that is used within the topic of instilling resiliency is productive struggle. This term is a new name for an old concept. Productive struggle is not a new educational idea. It is based on the concept of the teachings of Lev Vygotsky which are referred to as The Zone of Proximal Development.  The Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD is defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.” ( http://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal- Development.html). I used to refer to this concept as “tippy-toe learning.” In other words, one can not experience maximum learning without some learning stretch or productive struggle. Of course, productive struggle should be in concert with the proper adult support.  In addition, learning must take place in a step-by-step process.  You can not for example teach a small child complex materials without providing the structure, the supports and the years of growth that is needed to be successful.
I recently read an article titled “How ‘Productive Struggle’ in Math Class Makes Lessons Stick.”  (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/19/how-productive-failure-for-students-can-help-lessons-stick/)  The article maintains that by creating math lessons that are designed to create struggle (but not stress students out), the students will be more engaged and therefore more successful.  In order to promote these learning outcomes, the article promotes the following design principles in math instruction (though these principles could work in all subjects):
  • Tasks must be challenging, but not too challenging. They should also be relevant and interesting topics for students.
  • Design must include many ways to answer and not one path to the correct response.
  • Students should have to activate prior knowledge, but the solution should not be only based on that knowledge.
These same design principles can also hold true for growth experience in the home, in preparation for career and college readiness. How are you asking your child to grow? Are you allowing them the struggle to grow? Are you allowing them to take healthy risks in order to experience that productive struggle? I know as a parent, these are easier thought of or said than done. I encourage all of us to help our children grow into ‘grittier’ adults.
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