Teachers—How do we be both firm and flexible?




No talking without raising your hand.

It’s a common classroom rule. But do teachers expect it to be followed always, every time, under all conditions? Really?

What about the times when that one student who never participates calls out an answer? Do we risk not hearing from her after insisting on reminding her to raise her hand?

Or during that magical moment when a class discussion gets going beautifully and you can step back and watch students discuss and debate? Do we stifle the discussion by stopping each student and pointing to the “no calling out” reminder on the board?

Teachers need to be firm in enforcing their expectations. But we also need to be flexible when the situation calls for it. How do we do both? Strike a balance!


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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.