I teach math and I’m always talking about struggle being the ‘way’ you learn math. Math is like snow coming down and covering a sidewalk. You know you want to get to the end of the sidewalk, but the path isn’t very clear at first. So, you put forth some effort and ‘shovel’ the walk and the path becomes a little clearer. If you decide that you’re not going to practice math, it’s like letting that snow build up. It’s heavier, more solid and it’s harder to shovel out of your path. Practice math a little bit every day so you can get timely feedback. Ask questions as you go. All of this helps to shovel the sidewalk.
I’ve also started adding ‘yet’ to the ends of students’ negative statements. It’s amazing to watch their faces change when they go from “I can’t do this.” to “I can’t do this YET.” Faces relax and some students even smile. I talk often about a ‘magic number’ of problems that students need to see and struggle with a problem before they understand and have the “Oh, now I get it!” light-bulb moment. Also stress, especially in math, that you may strong in X but weak in Y… and that you may ask another student to help you understand Y, but then turn around and teach them X. When students make the comment early in a lesson “That’s so easy!” it can really shut down struggling learners. So I usually make comments about how their brains are ‘naturally wired’ for that topic. Students who struggle have brains wired a different way. I emphasize that the work they show and the questions that they ask are ways for me to figure out how their brain is wired to learn… and help them learn the concept their way.
I state over and over again, that I don’t expect students to have perfect scores, but I do expect them to grown. Many times I ask students to raise their hand or give a thumbs up if they feel better today than they did yesterday… or if I were to do that quiz again, I would get a better score. As long as students see themselves growing, they don’t give up.