Friday, November 18, 2011

In the Zone: Characteristics of Scaffolded Learners

I have always like the expression 'In the Zone'. A statement that refers to a flow of actions or thinking where each is done in an optimal if not peak performing way. Sports people are often described as 'in the zone' when they are performing on the field, court or track consistently at their best.

The best example of this was game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals for Basketball in 1994. The New York Nicks vs. The Indiana Pacers. After each team won the home games from the first two matches, The Pacers visited The Nicks at Madison Square Garden in New York. The game looked to be going the Nicks way until the Pacers star man Reggie Miller got 'in the zone'. He scored 39 points in the game but 25 of them came in the 4th quarter to give the Pacers a 93-86 victory. With Reggie in the zone he was scoring from all over the court, particularly with every long 3 point throw going through the hoop. There is one moment where he intercepts the ball and in a split second turns and steps out of the area in order to shoot (and score) 3 points.

How does this translate to learning? The expression 'in the zone' evokes thoughts of Vygotsky's zone of proximal development. This zone represents the edge of a child's learning; the limits of his or her constructions of what they understand of the world. If children are taught with this in mind the content of a lesson is planned to where the child is at. A child's personal learning is considered. Learning is scaffolded to support and fit around the child's developmental zone of proximal learning.

What does a child look like when they are learning in their zone?

Characteristics of children 'in the zone'

  • are excited and on task
  • have a clear understanding of what they are learning
  • feel comfortably challenged
  • are able to act independently of the teacher
  • can identify the relevant skills or knowledge they already possess that relates to the learning experience
  • know how to find support to parts of the learning that is difficult
  • are 'in the zone' in relation to the stage of development they are at
Teachers who want to create learning experiences for a child to work in their zone must do so from where the child is at. This means that they must make assessments. Sometimes formal but often informal verbal and observational,frequent quick assessments can ensure that learning is facilitated at the right level or in the right place for the pupil.

I suppose in the analogy with Reggie Miller 'in the zone' then surely that makes Spike Lee the bad teacher?

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