Why Good Teachers Allow Students to Struggle

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Feb 18, 2016 2:03:02 PM

Somewhere along the line, a lot of teachers, students, parents, and administrators got the idea that good teachers don't allow their students to struggle. For many, the ideal classroom looks like a teacher giving perfectly clear instructions followed by students dutifully practicing skills with confidence and some level of uniformity. While there is benefit to this methodology in some circumstances, overall I believe that:

students need to struggle. 

They need to struggle with the content.  Relying on the teacher for "correct answers" in literary analysis or argument writing is not what students need to be successful. It is not always easy to be patient, but students can arrive at deep analysis when given enough space and time to think. As much as we want to rush in with the explanations, it would actual be a disservice in many cases.

They need to struggle with the process. Expecting every assignment to be spoon fed to students with lock step directions limits the learning in a devastating way. When students are working on a project, they should feel empowered to work through technical glitches and figure out new tools.  Between Google, YouTube, and other commonly used technologies, students have access to an unprecedented amount of information.  It is our job to let them use the tools at their disposal. It can be a little awkward to tell students to "google it" especially when being observed by a department chair or administrator, but we have to push past initial discomfort in order to get students to solve their own problems.

They need to struggle individually and collectively. The skills to solve actual problems using personal critical thinking and collaboration are the indicators of success for the future.

Why Good Teachers Allow Students to Struggle

There are benefits to being uncomfortable.  

Students who work through discomfort, come out the other side with valuable skills and confidence.  It doesn't mean that teachers are lazy or mean.  In fact, it is quite the opposite. It means we care about them enough not to limit their education to our time and knowledge.  For us, it is as simple as giving students a few extra minutes before giving them an answer. Here's what I tell students: 

The first question may seem silly, but it is so common in my classroom that students don't even take the time to think through their problem/question before rushing to ask me.

Do you have any policies like this in your classroom?  We'd love to hear your suggestions or questions in the comment section below!

Topics: Classroom Management, teacher tips, tips

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