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Classroom Management: Creating a Classroom Environment for Productive Struggle - Teachers On The Block

Classroom Management: Creating a Classroom Environment for Productive Struggle

Each year I read books with a theme of growth mindset and we watch the videos from Class Dojo. Teaching students about growth mindset is so important, but this year I wanted to take it a step further! This year I wanted to set up a classroom culture where mistakes are expected and where productive struggle occurs often. So on the second day of school we had a challenge day! We worked as teams through several challenges. I also paired up students to discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and write ways they can encourage one another in times of struggle. So keep reading to check out all of the productive struggle we had throughout the day!

The first thing we did is set up an environment for struggle. We read The Girl who Never Made Mistakes and talked about how mistakes will happen in class. In my classroom I have the following quote displayed on the wall:

I did not go into detail about each part of the quote, but I focused on mistakes being expected. Then we created an anchor chart called #thestruggleisreal. This is where we discussed what productive struggle is, what it looks like, and what it does not look like. Students provided examples of what they have done in the past when they faced a problem. I gave them some examples of getting stuck in a video game, learning to ride a bike, and getting stuck on a math problem. Coming up with the incorrect behaviors seemed to come easily to my students. Here is the anchor chart we created:

Next, we had our first challenge! Our first challenge was a pattern block challenge. Students had to use pattern block to create the gauntlet from End Game. This summer I went to the Get Your Teach On Conference where Cara Carroll and Babbling Abby shared this fun activity with us. I could not find it on TPT but here are some free activities I found for you to use in your class!




Our next challenge was Save Fred! For this challenge you need the following for each group of 3-4 students:

Students must be in groups of 3-4. They will work together to get the gummy worm inside of the gummy life saver, then into the cup. Students can only use the paperclips to manipulate the other materials. They cannot use their hands at all. Other teachers I have spoken with have done this activity with first graders, so it is definitely one to be used with all ages!



The next book we read was Thank you Mr. Falker. My goal with reading this book was tell students about an actual person who struggled in school and still became successful. I love how Patricia Polacco writes about her struggle with reading and the teacher who never gave up on her.

Students worked in pairs to write about their strengths and weaknesses. They wrote down how they could encourage on another in times of struggle. Finally, they came up with a power word together and created a bracelet. Here are our class bracelets:


This activity is also from the training this summer so I do not have rights to share it on here. However, I feel it could be recreated easily to use in your own classroom.

Marshmallow Challenge Handout

The last challenge was the marshmallow challenge! The students worked in groups of 3-4. They had to build a free standing tower out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, tape, and string. On the top of their tower they had to support a large marshmallow. Honestly, none of my students’ towers held up, but they had so much fun creating! Every student participated and offered suggestions to the group. It was so much fun to watch the students collaborate!!

Here are the FREE instructions to the marshmallow challenge: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Marshmallow-Challenge-Handout-1264032?utm_campaign=TransactionalEmails&utm_source=sendgrid&utm_medium=email


So why do this in your class?

  1. These challenges created a classroom culture where struggle is expected.
  2. Students learned struggle is a part of learning.
  3. They learned how to support one another through times of struggle.
  4. They learned I am there to support and facilitate without giving answers.
  5. They learned it is okay to not know the answer right away.
  6. Most importantly, it was fun!!


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