Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Productive Struggle

For the last week and a half, my colleague Josh Allen and I have been taking Breakout EDU to the classrooms of our 2nd-5th grade building. It's been an illuminating experience for all of us.

As we've watched students work through the game, one of the most common comments I've heard from the teachers has been, "How can you just sit back and watch?"

Let me just tell you. Sometimes it's hard. Very hard. It's hard to watch as students don't use the resources given to them. It's hard to watch as students skim past clues. It's hard to listen to students who aren't listening to their group members. It's hard to see students who are so close to getting something but are missing a small detail. 

It's hard to watch students struggle.

We as teachers want so badly to see our students succeed. But sometimes we forget that in order to succeed, sometimes we have to struggle. 

The opportunities that Breakout EDU offers are what I'd call productive struggle. 

Breakout EDU, no matter what game, teaches our students to be critical-thinkers and problem-solvers. They must determine what is and what is not important information. They must decide how to use the information they've been given. It teaches them to be good team members. In order to succeed, Breakout EDU requires team work. It requires students to take turns. It requires them to share their ideas and explain their thinking. It requires them to listen to each other. And Breakout EDU teaches our students to persevere. It requires them to shift their thinking when something doesn't work. It requires them to work past frustration and to build off the ideas of others.

Now, of course, we're not completely heartless. We intervene and redirect groups that are becoming toxic and derailing themselves. We don't want the struggle to become debilitating.

One of the most important things that we do at the end of every game is to reflect. Even if groups fail to breakout in the allotted time, we take the time to celebrate and recognize the things they did well. And we always take the time to ask them what they learned about the experience and how they'd use what they learned for next time. Almost always someone brings up the ideas of reading more carefully, of noticing, of listening, of working together, of trying different things.

And we always talk to our students about how all of the things they've learned are things that can be applied outside of Breakout EDU . . . in the classroom, during math or reading, at recess, at home. 

Because in the outside world, the struggle is very real.