Why Frustration is Good For You

March 16, 2015

Do you ever get that “aha!” feeling after finally finding all the answers to a sudoku puzzle? Or even finding the right route on a map when you’re lost? It turns out that this process – the frustration and irritation of struggling with a difficult problem – is an essential part of the learning process and a way to tell if students are truly learning in the classroom.

The same cannot be said for boredom. Research by Professor Ryan Baker et.al found that while frustration was a sign of learning, students who were bored during class were likely to stay bored, meaning very little learning was taking place.

Baker and his team used the BROMP method for quantifiable field observations to observe undergraduate students in the United States and high school students in the Philippines as they worked in three computer-based learning environments. More specifically, they looked at how emotional and behavioral states such as engaged concentration, frustration, boredom, confusion, delight, and surprise affected students’ learning.

Researchers discovered that engaged concentration was the most common state observed, taking up around 60 percent of students’ time in the classroom.

The most enduring state, however, was boredom. Across all three computerized learning environments, students who got bored were likely to continue feeling bored.

Teachers can bring these findings into their classroom:

  1. Accept frustration. While it may be tempting to intervene when students are visibly frustrated, this study shows that allowing them to struggle for the answer may make them stronger learners.
  2. Watch out for boredom. When students are bored and tuned out, no learning is taking place. Check out our Pinterest board for infographics and articles on engaging students.

How do you tell if a child is bored or frustrated? Share your ideas with us on Facebook,TwitterPinterest, or Google+!

Post by Stephanie Li, PRIME Fellow

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