A journey through the beauty of difficulty: helping students embrace challenging concepts and feel empowered by confusion

Jonathan Cisco

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Every learner knows the feeling of defeat when faced with a challenging text or concept, and when educators see it in their students, they witness how these feelings can disempower students of all ages and abilities. Whether it's a work of modern art, poetry, or mathematical formulae, the disempowering feeling of difficulty can build a wall between curiosity and comprehension.

What if we could prevent our students from shutting down when faced with a challenging text or concept and instead empower them to explore their confusion?

This session provides strategies through two forms of writing: (1) an adapted difficulty paper inspired by Salvatori and Donahue's work regarding the pleasures of difficulty and (2) an exploratory essay encouraging students to view difficulty through their senses. The purpose of the difficulty paper is to help a student become comfortable with difficulty and be receptive to multiple interpretations or approaches of a challenging concept or text in an environment of safety and non judgment. The second strategy encourages the writer to explore challenging concepts or texts by formally exploring the text through their five senses. The strategies can be readily adapted across content areas and levels of study.

We will explore challenging texts and concepts across the disciplines, from modern art and music to mathematics and statistics. Through this journey, educators will have the opportunity to analyse student work in these disciplines and learn strategies to empower students and embrace difficulty.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2018
Event54th UKLA International Conference 2018: Literacies in a changing world: creativity, criticality, empowerment - Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel & Spa, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jul 20188 Jul 2018


Conference54th UKLA International Conference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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