Productive struggle—expending effort to make sense of something beyond one’s current level of understanding—aids in learning mathematics concepts and procedures. In this study, we surveyed 197 parents with children in the 1st to the 5th grade on their beliefs about productive struggle. Beliefs were assessed via questionnaire and rating of a recorded lesson involving productive struggle. Parents also reported how often they helped with math homework and their child’s ability in math. The results show that parents had diverse beliefs about the efficacy of productive struggle, with fathers favoring it more than mothers. A significant relation was found between parents’ beliefs about productive struggle and reports of their child’s ability in math. The findings of this study suggest that for productive struggle to be effective, parents must intentionally facilitate experiences through student-centered approaches. Programs for parents should emphasize specific evidence-based behaviors rather than broad generalizations about increased involvement with homework. Schools and educators should also provide guidance for parents to explain the potential harmful effects of gender stereotypes and parents’ own math anxiety and to teach methods for limiting homework interaction while students grapple with difficult problems.
Salvador R. Vazquez, Bradley A. Ermeling and Gerardo Ramirez
David J. Whitin
As my eleven-year-old daughter, Becca, was doing her mathematics homework one night, she called me into her room. “Dad, do you think'36 × 8' is the same as '48 × 6'?”
One issue that came out in my teaching when I started to follow the principles of the NCTM's Standards was how to guide parents who wanted to help their children with mathematics homework. From conversations with parents and from experiences as an educator, I came up with the following suggestions for parents. Perhaps you can adjust this list to your needs.
A grade 4 mathematics homework question instructed students, “Use the empty number line to solve the following,” causing nineyear- old Emily to respond, “No one should tell me what strategy to use. I should be allowed to make up my own mind!” Emily found it easier to solve some two-digit addition and subtraction computations by splitting them into tens and ones rather than using a strategy that could be recorded on a number line.