Maths struggle is a positive

Maths can be hard but that's a good thing, some work and persistence makes for resilient students who can solve problems and collaborate.
Jul 15, 2020
Work is good
Struggling and overcoming is beneficial

Maths can be hard but that's a good thing, some  work and persistence makes for resilient students who can solve problems and collaborate

Challenges force students to take risks, build autonomy, develop confidence, foster self-efficacy, learn through mistakes, and acquire a growth mindset.

Positivity about challenging students academically shows up in new research by Dr James Russo from Monash University’s Faculty of Education, revealing a shift in teachers’ willingness to embrace struggle in mathematics

More than 90 per cent of teachers interviewed held either positive or conditionally positive beliefs about struggle in the mathematics classroom. Just five of the teachers interviewed held negative views.

Published in the Journal of Mathematical Behaviour, researchers interviewed 93 early-years Australian teachers about the role of struggle in the mathematics classroom and how this corresponds with student learning capacity.

“Embracing struggle through encouraging and maintaining mathematical challenge is important; but it is only one aspect of excellent mathematics teaching,” Russo said.

“Specifically, it is suggested that teachers need to incorporate more cognitively demanding mathematical tasks into their lessons and employ problem-based approaches to learning where students are afforded opportunities to explore concepts prior to any teacher instruction.

“Teachers also need to be willing to develop their pedagogical content knowledge, cultivate an enjoyment of mathematics teaching and learning, and have access to high quality resources and professional learning.

“In struggling with a task, students come to understand that it is not about the answer, but the thinking used in arriving at those conclusions.”

While the majority of teachers embraced the notion of struggle, others questioned whether it could further disadvantage underachieving students.

One teacher respondent said: “If it is a ‘challenge’ for high achieving students, the ‘struggle’ is a great thing as it pushes these students out of their comfort zone. However, if it is the underachieving student, the notion of ‘struggle’ has a different and more concerning definition”.

While the research found teachers’ attitudes towards struggle have shifted in Australian schools over the past decade, future studies must look at the difference between teacher perceptions of struggle and the practices they adopt in the classroom. 

To download a copy of the study titled: ‘Elementary teachers’ belief on the role of struggle in the mathematics classroom’, visit