Scaffolding balance


Goldilocks and math instruction. There is a connection.

A recent article co-authored by a teacher and an education professor explored the sweet spot of providing support during a math exploration. Rachel Dale and Jimmy Scherrer describe finding the right amount of support by looking at two extremes and finding the “just right” level in between, like Goldilocks eating porridge that was neither too hot nor too cold. They give detailed examples of providing too much and too little scaffolding in a exploratory lesson on fractions, before landing in between, on what they call “productive struggle”—

The right amount of scaffolding: Productive struggle

This approach of Goldilocks discourse is an example of productive struggle (Kapur, 2014). The key to making student-struggle productive is providing the right amount of scaffolding.

Source: Goldilocks Discourse — math scaffolding that’s just right | Kappan Common Core Writing Project

This is a good concrete example of an earlier Balance Challenge, that of providing support and encouraging independence. You can read the original post on that here.

scale support-independenceProviding supporting through scaffolding is necessary, but too much and students aren’t free to make mistakes and draw their own conclusions.

And we do indeed need to step back and encourage their independence, but stepping back too much leaves students to flounder.

Like Goldilocks finding the not-too-big/not-too-small chair, find the scaffolding sweet spot to help your students achieve productive struggle, where kids learn best.

Does it help to say, I am the greatest?



“It pays to be overconfident”

That’s according to a recent study that claims overconfidence leads to higher social status and “peer perceptions of social and task skill.”

I can’t help but have a gut response that says, so many people can see right through that overconfidence or are just put off by it. But even if we accept the research, does that mean we should always trick ourselves into thinking that we’re the best?

Not according to psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, says straight up, don’t be too confident. He sees overconfidence as the trait most likely to lead to terrible decisions. In a recent interview, he described overconfidence as:

the kind of optimism that leads governments to believe that wars are quickly winnable and capital projects will come in on budget despite statistics predicting exactly the opposite

So, then, what are we left to think? If we’re super confident then we may get the respect of our peers, but make bad decisions. If, on the other hand, we doubt ourselves constantly, won’t that impede our drive and damage our self-image?

It seems, once again, that what we need to do is strike a balance. Find that middle ground between:

extreme self-confidence that can cloud your judgement


extreme self-doubt that leaves you powerless

088.pngThere’s a huge space in between, where you find the confidence to tackle challenges, and at the same time the questioning necessary to find the true best solution.

The Balance Challenge is all about making decisions that work best for you and the people around you. Finding the right balance between confidence and questioning can help guide the way.

A Balanced Approach to Teaching Social Skills



I recently read a couple of great posts on social skills training from M Kelter of Invisible Strings that connect to the idea of balance. M speaks of the real emotional dangers of social skills approaches that force people to change who they are:

In a world that puts so much pressure on people to assimilate and resemble others, being different can hurt…but learning to hide those differences? That can be equally destructive, if not more so.

I don’t know what the answers is for this…how the balance is struck.

via Etching Helvetica: stories from the autism spectrum

It is indeed a complicated issue. But at the risk of oversimplifying, I think that M has identified the answer: balance.

In the field—or community—of autism, there are strong feelings about social skills approaches. Without wading too deeply into that debate (which you can read more about from Karla Fisher, for starters), the debate sometimes breaks down into:

  • Teach-Skills Group: people (mostly neurotypical) who argue that autistic folk need to be taught social skills, that it’s essential in order to be successful in our society
  • Don’t-Teach-Skills Group: people who argue that autistic folk don’t have anything to gain from learning neurotypical social skills from neurotypical people

What’s implied by the Teach-Skills Group’s assumptions is that in order to be accepted, one must act “normal,” like “everyone else,” i.e., like neurotypical people. An example is eye contact training, something that many autistics describe as distracting or even painful. This can put autistic people under a lot of pressure to conform in a way that can lead to the kinds of emotional destress that M discusses.

However, the Don’t-Teach-Skills Group may be taking things too far: there are certain social expectations in our society that, if not followed, can lead to unpleasant results for all people involved. If one doesn’t compromise at all on their idea when working on a group project at work, for example, the project can stall, and that person may be reprimanded or even fired.

M again clarifies this division quite well:

Because of this tension, discussions about social skills training often lapse into a binary either/or dynamic. It’s described as either helpful or destructive, the end. Once that framework is in place, it’s tough to really sound out any nuances with the topic (which is understandable, given some of the bad history there).

via Autism/Aspergers Q and A: social skills training and managing negativity

The Balance Challenge is all about nuance—the many, many places in between two extremes. We can begin to find that space by looking at this:

Finding a Balance Between Exposing People to New Ideas and Embracing Differences

expose-embraceBoth are valid: it’s important to expose people to ideas they’re not aware of AND it’s crucial to accept what makes people different

But exposure only, without embracing, and social skills training becomes a one-sided, stressful, high-pressure environment

And solely embracing, without exposure, can rob autistic folks of helpful information about the neurotypical social world

If neurotypical people (teachers, therapists, friends and family) are charged with teaching social skills to people with autism, they can:

  • expose autistic folk to common social expectations… without demanding they act them out
  • explore the reasons why these social expectations exist… without trying to convince them they’re universally correct

And autistic folk learning social skills can:

  • offer their perspective on the social world… without insisting that the neurotypical one is wrong
  • discuss what’s challenging about NT expectations… without refusing them outright

Like all learning and growth, this process may be challenging or uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be so much so that people with autism experience emotional duress. Hopefully, they can work with a trusted neurotypical professional or friend.

And together, neurotypical and autistic folk working with one another can decide which skills are crucial to learn and understand (greeting a principal/boss, maybe?), and which are a matter of difference in perspective (eye contact, perhaps?).

Striking this balance is crucial to teaching autistic people, while honoring and validating people’s different perspectives, something almost everyone can agree is at the heart of being social.

Balance News April


Recent news in the world of balance, education, the social, and problem-solving

There’s a great piece on Edutopia by Elena Aguilar about “mental models” in education. Nice connections to the implications for underlying assumptions of abilities of students of color—the same applies to students with disabilities.

Mental models are our values, beliefs, and a series of assumptions about how the world works. Unconsciously, we create a story about other people, institutions, and the world which drives our behavior. While everyone has them (in fact, we need them to make sense of the complex world in which we live), all mental models are flawed to some extent and usually invisible to us.

via Shifting Mental Models in Educators | Edutopia.


And a good write-up of a study documenting sensory struggles of students on the autism spectrum. Researchers interviewed the real experts: students on the autism spectrum. Speaks to the need to balance typical research with the perspectives of the people the research is studying.

Kids With Autism Describe Their Sensory Lives -- Science of Us

Let the kids describe what they’re going through! — shouldn’t be a radical one, but it is.

via Kids With Autism Describe Their Sensory Lives — Science of Us.


And here’s one from The Telegraph about the benefit of allowing kids with ADHD to fidget. Teachers need to balance our expectations for student behavior with students’ physical needs.

A study into how children with ADHD process information revealed that their toe-tapping, leg-swinging and restless movements are vital to how they remember things and work out complex tasks.

Scientists suggested that those with ADHD could perform better in tests and homework while doing things like sitting on exercise bikes or activity balls.

via Children with ADHD ‘should be allowed to fidget’ – Telegraph.