Grapple: to engage in a struggle
The term, “grapple problem” is a current buzz phrase in education. Google it, and numerous articles, blog posts and videos will surface. Grapple problems, or lessons, are a requirement at my current school. Students are encouraged to wrestle with new information before it is taught. The hope is that students are able to critically think through tasks and work through frustrations. They apply what they know to help them with the unknown. They think outside the box.
Sounds great, right? In a perfect classroom, all students would be tirelessly applying what they know to figure out a tough word problem in math or make a quality inference in literacy.
But no one is perfect. No classroom is perfect. The honest truth: Grappling is messy.
In my literacy class, I like to believe my students are grappling with text every day, especially when I give them an unfamiliar text. After all, there is some aspect of grappling involved when presented with a text, especially when close reading. Students encounter unknown words, they “talk to the text” and eventually, discuss the text. Questions are raised that prompt critical thinking. But is this grappling?
It depends who you talk to, but my answer is “yes.” When thinking is challenged and the process becomes somewhat frustrating, students are grappling.
The problem? Many students (mine included) give up at the first sign of a challenge. Grappling must be modeled and consistent.
We know that some students have been conditioned with a fixed mindset throughout their schooling. They see a wrong answer as a failure and struggle with resiliency.
My advice: Begin with mini-grapples. Model by thinking aloud. Begin with a known skill (inference, for example), but with an unknown picture or text. Scaffold grapple problems until students become okay with the feeling of frustration. The last thing you want are student tears when faced with a challenging word problem in math or text in literacy!
I don’t do a grapple problem every day, but my students are becoming more comfortable with challenges. However, many of them still want my assistance when faced with a challenge. I politely decline and encourage them to try. After a few glares, eye rolls and teeth-sucking, most students begin working through the task.
How do you encourage students to grapple in your classroom?