The Learning Zone

While taking a tour around Ross Parker’s blog recently, I came across his lovely graphic of “The Learning Zone” – another term to describe what Vygotsky essentially outlines with his “Zone of Proximal Development” concept. I won’t lie: I haven’t thought about Vygotsky since my uni days – so this mini refresher was really useful!

From Simply Pshycology.org: “Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky believed that when a student is in the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a “boost” to achieve the task.”

So Vygotsky’s ZPD would look something like this:

ZPD

This ‘guidance’ and ‘encouragement’ is often synonymous with the term ‘scaffolding’, coined by Wood et al. (1976). Scaffolding (i.e. assistance) is “most effective when the support is matched to the needs of the learner” (Link).

Debbie Silver, in her article ‘Using the Zone To Help Reach Every Learner’ (2011), outlines these guidelines for scaffolding instruction:

  • Assess the learner’s current knowledge and experience for the academic content.
  • Relate content to what students already understand or can do.
  • Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback.
  • Use verbal cues and prompts to assist students.

Parker’s graphic:
Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 11.21.36 AM

So, too much scaffolding would land you in the ‘comfort zone’ of Parker’s image, however, too little scaffolding would land you in the ‘Terror zone’. What I love about this graphic is that the blue ‘learning’ zone is quite small. To me, this indicates how much of an art form it really is for teachers to effectively match the level of scaffolding they offer with the individual needs of each student. Every day our challenge as teachers is to foster our students’ ability to succeed within that sweet spot of the ‘blue zone’.

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