Years ago challenging work was something teachers saved for only their top students. It was an extension activity or something to keep those early finishers busy while they waited for their classmates to catch up. It wasn’t for everyone, it was saved for the “talented and gifted” students.
Fortunately, times have changed and teachers are now encouraged to ensure that students of all levels are appropriately challenged. Thank goodness for that because in order to develop a growth mindset, students must experience challenges and struggles.
Challenge is the core of the growth mindset; without it, students don’t get the opportunities to take risks, learn to fail and figure out how to pick themselves up again. This “sense of progress” as Dweck calls it, is central to developing growth mindsets.
Take just a quick minute to watch Dweck share why she believes “challenge should become the new comfort zone”.
Normalizing the Struggle
If we want to make “challenge the new comfort zone” for students, teachers must create a classroom environment that supports such a shift. Students have to experience activities require them to try and try again, and teachers must provide them with feedback that keeps them motivated to keep pushing and trying.
I love the way Ms. Montay-Wilson, a 2nd grade teacher, has normalized the struggle in her classroom. It is powerful to watch her students of all levels embrace challenges and persevere.
This video is another excellent example of a 5th grade teacher who uses a challenging “problem of the month” math activity to teach her students about perseverance.
I love her closing statement that says, “We need perseverance because we have to have lots of tries. Sometimes we discover the strategy we have been working so hard on isn’t actually the one that is going to solve our problem. That’s okay.” What a wonderful message for students to hear.
Activities that Provide Challenge and Develop Perseverance
As we work to create a classroom where challenges are readily accepted by students, we as teachers must provide them with tasks and activities that actually challenge them and force them to persevere! So today I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite lessons and activities that do just that!
I explicitly teach my students that challenge is good! One way I have done this is by delivering a growth mindset lesson and activity where students experience struggle through a challenging task. This experience serves as a way for them to learn that in life when we engage in challenges we have the opportunity to take risks, learn to fail, and figure out how to pick ourselves up again to persevere through the struggle. Students also learn that when we push through a challenge and master new learning the neurons in our brains make stronger connections, thus “our brains grow”!
My students have so much fun learning about perseverance through this coin flip challenge! We watch the short video together and then students get to try the challenge themselves! They each place a penny on the back of their forearm and try to flip it into the palm of their hand. I give them 5 – 10 minutes to give this challenge a try!
After the challenge activity I bring students together to discuss the following questions:
- What did you learn from today’s challenge?
- How did you keep going when you struggled?
- What steps did you take to make you successful today?
- What are some different strategies you could have used?
- If you had more time or a hint do you think you might have been more successful?
To wrap up the lesson I show students this fun Growth Mindset Neuroplasticity song or let them complete a reflection sheet:
This lesson and activity is one of 11 in my Growth Mindset Activities and Lessons. The resource has everything needed to cultivate a growth mindset in each of your students! It includes easy to implement explicit lesson plans, research based, hands on learning activities, and differentiated student response printables, notes for the teacher, (informative mindset education) as well as an editable letter to involve and educate families about the growth mindset culture you will establish with your students. Take a closer look in this blog post or my TPT shop!
These brain teasers are a great math center that will keep kids engaged while improving students’ skills needed to solve logic tasks, as well as developing their visual discrimination skills. These puzzles are perfect to help students learn to persevere through challenging tasks. The set includes three different levels of puzzles which helps to ensure all students are appropriately challenged. These pattern block logic puzzles always leave my students begging for more! You can download a free sample set in this post!
Easy to use, these brain teasers are a great math center that will keep students engaged while thinking logically. These puzzles are perfect to help students learn to persevere through challenging tasks. I created an answer key so the puzzles are self checking and can be used as early finisher activities, morning tubs, or math centers.
These logic puzzles are the perfect challenge for students once they have learned the value and can count a mixed set of coins (penny, nickel, dime, quarter). Students use the logic clues to order the coins on these self checking task cards. The bundle of cognition coins puzzles increase in difficulty making the tasks challenging but attainable for students.
As you work to provide your students with opportunities for challenge, here are some questions you may want to consider:
- Are all your students engaging in challenging work?
- Are you differentiating materials so students are frequently challenged?
- Are your students encouraged to take risks?
- Do your students believe you have high expectations for them?
We want our students to leave our classrooms believing they can do anything! When we ask them to struggle through a task we are teaching them that with effort and perseverance they have the capacity to rewire their brains and learn. Opportunities to take risks, learn to fail, and figure out how to pick themselves up again are imperative to building the confidence students will need to engage in the challenges that life will bring!