Why struggle? Learning to be uncomfortable.

In our stay at the National University of Singapore, we recently met with Professor Roy Glauber, Nobel Prize winner for his contributions in quantum theory of light.  Over coffee and cake at our place we had an opportunity to talk with him and his lovely friend Antholie Rosett about their experiences over the years.  We wanted our kids to hear how people become motivated to do the things they like to do.

Atholie had shared how she graduated with a mathematics degree and then went into interior design.  She always had an eye for patterns and design.  Roy also shared his experience as an artist.  He was really good at art and everyone knew it.  However there was a point where he felt, in his eyes, that he couldn’t do it well.  Though he enjoyed it, he didn’t feel it was his passion.  He told our kids that they should do something they enjoy and something that challenges them.  If they don’t find it challenging then everyone else can do it.  This really stuck with us!

In the article Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures they talk about how key the struggle is to learning.  It’s not just about knowing the curriculum but also having the skills to try, process & consolidate the curriculum.  If students don’t take the risk to try or don’t have the persistence and patience to carry out a plan, then we won’t really know what students know or don’t know?

I remember walking around in the Suntec Mall and overhearing a mother and preschool daughter’s conversation.  They were standing in front of a store window discussing what 50% off means.  She gave easy examples and then gave more difficult examples for her child to figure out.  She patiently waited while her daughter figured out the sale price.

As teachers and parents, we need to step back and allow our kids to struggle.  Though we may feel they need help when they make mistakes or don’t know where to go next, we have to trust that the process of struggling helps them develop strategies to problem solve.  Yes there may be a time limit as to when we step in before the frustration levels peak, but the time is later than we think it is.  Encouragement along the way provides the confidence they need to persevere.

Give it a try with your child or student and see what happens!


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