Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 375–400 | Cite as

Productive struggle in middle school mathematics classrooms

  • Hiroko Kawaguchi WarshauerEmail author


Prior studies suggest that struggling to make sense of mathematics is a necessary component of learning mathematics with understanding. Little research exists, however, on what the struggles look like for middle school students and how they can be productive. This exploratory case study, which used episodes as units of analysis, examined 186 episodes of struggles in middle school students as they engaged in tasks focused on proportional reasoning. The study developed a classification structure for student struggles and teacher responses with descriptions of the kinds of student struggle and kinds of teacher responses that occurred. The study also identified and characterized ways in which teaching supported the struggles productively. Interaction resolutions were viewed through the lens of (a) how the cognitive demand of the task was maintained, (b) how student struggle was addressed and (c) how student thinking was supported. A Productive Struggle Framework was developed to capture the episodes of struggle episodes from initiation, to interaction and to resolution. Data included transcripts from 39 class session videotapes, teacher and student interviews and field notes. Participants were 327 6th- and 7th-grade students and their six teachers from three middle schools located in mid-size Texas cities. This study suggests the productive role student struggle can play in supporting “doing mathematics” and its implications on student learning with understanding. Teachers and instructional designers can use this framework as a tool to integrate student struggle into tasks and instructional practices rather than avoid or prevent struggle.


Student learning Instructional practice Middle school mathematics Productive struggle Persistence 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsTexas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA

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