Struggle

Christopher Schrenk

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” - E.M. Forster

Once you make it to your point of making it, you'll appreciate the struggle.” - Nas


For our opening activity, I would like you to think of one human endeavor that has NOT involved struggle.

(Two minutes pass … )

OK, would anyone like to share? Anybody?

(Crickets)

David? Cheryl? Brad?

(Walks around the room, looking at the students’ papers.)

Really? Nobody wrote anything down? Huh …

    The truth is, students struggle every day inside and outside the classroom. Many teachers have control only over what happens inside their classroom walls. (Bless those that have control, or at least influence, outside as well.) Some would say that struggle leads to the tuned-out student who mainly shows up hoping the teacher will pass them along. Some would say that we have cleansed the system of difficulty, all the while preaching rigor, rigor, rigor. This cleansing has then led to the student who wants the immediate answer, the immediate feedback, the immediate response – all to make it easier on themselves. Struggle is not in the modern student’s lexicon. Students have been conditioned by the educational system and the Internet to get what they need or want right away. But is this beneficial to the student or to the learning process?

    In any discipline, analysis is a critical skill to practice. Analysis can be defined as the “detailed examination of the elements or structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation.1” Some synonyms for analysis are: examination, investigation, inspection, survey, study, and scrutiny. It seems to me like there is little room in any definition or synonym of the term “analysis” for giving answers to students; however, there is plenty within that definition to support allowing students to struggle.

    Struggle fosters communication within groups and between groups. Who hasn’t, at some time in their academic career, gone to another student or colleague and asked them, “What did you get?” That simple question, asked from one participant to another, can lead to new questions and new avenues of inquiry. It can lead to trying something that was not thought of at first. It can lead to discovery. All without the teacher giving away any answers.

    Really, teachers need to move themselves (and others) away from the sage-on-the-stage model and more toward the guide-on-the-side model. Teachers need to foster thinking, communication, curiosity, analysis – none of which (in my extremely humble opinion) can be achieved by giving students answers.

    One of the best things I overheard recently in my classroom was the following:

   Student 1: “I’m going to ask him … ”

   Student 2: “You know he’s not going to give you the answer. Let’s try and figure it out first.”

   One small victory.


1. Analysis [Def. 1] (n.d.) In Google Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=definition+of+analysis

Christopher Schrenk has taught science to adolescents in multiple districts for the last 15 years, but most recently in New Brunswick, NJ. Normally, courses taught consist of AP Biology, honors biology, introduction to forensic science, and issues in science. In his spare time he reads and spends as much time as possible with his two kids, ages 6 and 3. He is also a volunteer EMT with his local rescue squad and urges people to do the same.