How Productive is the Productive Struggle? Lessons Learned from a Scoping Review

Jamaal Rashad Young, Danielle Bevan, Miriam Sanders
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Since its first notable appearance in the Second Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning, the phrase productive struggle has garnered support from a few, yet very influential, educational researchers. However, since the phrase was popularized by Hiroko Warshauer in 2011, examinations of the productive struggle have grown substantially within mathematics education. In this article, we present a systematic review of the literature on the productive struggle to quantify the breadth and depth of existing work in the area.  Our analysis indicates that many studies: (1) provide a direct implementation of the productive struggle; (2) primarily involve teachers and not students; (3) present primarily qualitative or non-empirical research approaches; and (4) specify the NCTM content area focus less often across studies. Thus, we conclude that there are opportunities for rigorous research designs reporting on observable trends in the implementation of the productive struggle, explicitly targeting underexamined NCTM content and process standards, and focusing on how the productive struggle can support equity in mathematics. We believe that these opportunities should be investigated to provide a broader evidence base for developing meaningful experiences in mathematics for school-aged children that capitalize on the interconnectedness of attribution, meta-cognition, and controlled frustration in mathematics learning.


Productive struggle, Problem-solving, Meta-cognition, frustration

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Young, J.R., Bevan, D., & Sanders, M. (2024). How productive is the productive struggle? Lessons learned from a scoping review. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology (IJEMST), 12(2), 470-495.



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International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology (IJEMST) 
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Editors: Mack Shelley & Ismail Sahin

Place of Publication: Turkey & Name of Publisher: Ismail Sahin

ISSN: 2147-611X (Online)