The Struggle is Real

We know that learning is a process that uses previous knowledge to make sense of new information. In education we refer to this as the Zone of Proximal Development where we scaffold current understanding and support to new knowledge that is yet to be understood.

Scaffolding: Taking ‘old knowledge or guidance’ and using it to bring understanding to ‘new knowledge’

Research shows that struggling is absolutely critical to mastery and that the highest achieving people in the world are those who have struggled the most.

Why Struggle Is Essential for the Brain — and Our Lives – Jo Boaler (Oct 2019)

Neuroscience has found that mistakes are critical for our brains to develop.

Who hasn’t seen a baby or toddler persistent in their focus to learn something? You can almost see the gears turning inside their heads, working diligently to make sense of the nonsensical. It is this struggle that creates those brand new neural connections.

As a teacher, I reveled in seeing the figurative ‘light-bulb’ turn on above a student’s head when they finally solved their puzzle — making the necessary connections within their brains to cement their newfound understanding.

That AHA Moment = Pure Magic

So, don’t despair when you struggle.

And as a teacher, mentor, parent or friend — actually seeing someone struggle with a problem should be a time for celebration. Be excited that they are building new neural bridges — creating newly understood knowledge.

Here are some other key points for those helping learners:

  • Don’t dive in to solve their problem;
  • Guide them down a path that will provide just the right amount of information but not too much — put them in the ‘zone of proximal development’;
  • Encourage them — cheer them on to success.

Solving a child’s problem for them interrupts that all important neurochemical bridge building that is happening. Seeing that light bulb turn on is what’s it’s all about.

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