Saturday, September 09, 2006

productive uncertainty

I'm not even sure they are still using the term "Productive Uncertainty" at Connections Center anymore, but I like it, so I'm going to write about it. I like it because Uncertainty -- not knowing what's coming next -- is pretty self-explanatory, and Productive means that there is an opposite called Unprodcutive, and the difference is very clear in terms of which one is beneficial and what happens if you're not successful.

Uncertainty is that "C" in the R-C-R cycle, the Challenge, the moment when your child is pushed beyond their capabilities ever so slightly. This Uncertainty is Productive when they are successful and develop a new regulation, and they develop the competence that allows those ever-important neurons in the brain to grow. It's like a subtle little switch in the brain gets flipped into the correct position. When the child is NOT successful, then the uncertainy was UNproductive, and they become dysregulated and express that in whatever manner is usual for them (melt-downs, tantrums, shutting down, striking out). It's pretty clear to you, as a parent, when your child's uncertainty has been unproductive!

The best way to keep the Uncertainty productive is by scaffolding the activities to ensure that the child is able to be successful in the challenge. (It's also extremely important that the challenge be very slight, as too much challenge will not be successful/productive either -- so framing appropriately is the first step.) (For definitions of Scaffolding and Framing, see my previous two posts!)

Here's an example from our RDI program. Jacob has some pretty huge food issues, even with looking and and touching foods. So when we do anything having to do with baking, etc, I have to scaffold the heck out of it to ensure success. But I love doing these activities with him because it is SUCH a challenge to him, that I can be assured I'll get a lot of "bang for my buck" so to speak -- every accomplishment he has with an activity like this is a huge opportunity for brain development.

So, let's see how I scaffolded baking cookies. First, I knew that he could not handle the actual preparation of dough and all the millions of steps that go into it. So I bought the pre-made cookie dough, already cut into shapes. The first time we did this, I had him sit in front of a cookie sheet, and I handed him the cookie dough, and instructed him (non-verbally, just by indicating with body language) to place the dough on the cookie sheet. He really didn't want to take that cookie dough from me, but eventually he did, and was successful it transfering it to the cookie sheet (though I think I needed to physically guide his hand the first couple of times). We repeated until the cookie sheet was full. By the last cookie, he was getting pretty good at taking that cookie from me and placing it down on the sheet. So there was no uncertainty (challenge) anymore. So the next time we baked cookies, I used the same type of cookies, but this time, after handing him the first cookie (so he could see that it was the same activity), I just held out the cookie dough tray to him (uncertainty/challenge) and HE had to pull the cookie dough off the tray and transfer it to the cookie sheet. He had gotten pretty competent at that by the end of that cookie baking session. So the next time I used a different kind of cookie. Even though he'd been competent at that level with the original type of cookie, he was not able to bring himself to lift the new kind of cookie dough off the tray, and we ended up with tears and a lot of protesting. There was too much uncertainty with touching an unknown type of cookie dough. So I went back to handing him the cookie dough again, and that was enough scaffolding to allow him to be successful, even though he was still pretty distressed about it being a different kind of cookie than what he was expecting it to be. So we had tears, but he was successful. Next time we made that kind of cookie, we had no tears and didn't need the extra scaffolding. And the same held true when I switched up the type of cookie again, added dipping it in sugar or sprinkling it with sprinkles, etc. So long as I kept the scaffolding where it needed to be to keep enough (but not too much!) uncertainty, it was very productive. Fast forward a year or so, and I've got a kid who can mix up cookie dough pretty much on his own (under my supervision), and get his hands right in there to form the shapes, even if it's not a type of cookie he's going to want to eat.

The really cool think about this concept is that while Productive Uncertainty is where the child does his actual development, the UNproductive times are not slogging you deeper in the muck -- all you need to do is to increase your scaffolding slightly until you find that point at which your child is challenged just enough to make it productive, but not so much that it's unproductive.

As you get to know your child's strengths and weaknesses better through RDI, it gets easier to guess at how much scaffolding to use when first starting out on a new activity. But you always need to adjust to keep the uncertainty productive -- a little more here because they are already competent and need a challenge, a little less there because they are showing signs of it becoming unproductive. Posted by Picasa


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