Wilderness of proximal development…

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When leading academic researchers in Australia tell you that the best teaching is just like angry birds, you either switch right on, or right off. Luckily for me, I had just been inspired by Heather de Blasio from Wilderness School, so my attention was piqued.

With angry birds, very early on, you understand exactly what you need to do to achieve success. If you get one star, you’ll know that with some practice, you’ll be able to get 2 or 3 stars because you are well aware of the success criteria. Then, just as you finish, you are greeted with a slightly harder level where again, success criteria is clear, and the challenge is appropriate. Very rarely in video games do you hear people say “that got way too hard, way too quickly”.

The zone of proximal development is that glorious space put forth by Vygotsky between what a student can do with and without assistance. It should be noted at this point that “assistance” does not mean “teaching telling how to…” but we know that.

The inspiration from Wilderness School was that they are conducting an R-12 school improvement model where the ZPD of every student is mapped, at every moment. Each faculty has developed R-12 rubrics for success criteria in their subject, whereby students know what every step on their learning journey will look like through their schooling. Their success in implementing Professional Learning Communities is in itself, a model of good practice, however, their desire and commitment to mapping each of their students and their progress through something that ISN’T a common test, is fantastic to see. Finally, the school is taking the time to delve into the capacity of its staff, and seems to be gaining an understanding of the ZPD of teachers and faculties.

So the four takeaways:

  • How clear are your success criteria and how achievable are the challenges that students are set?
  • How are you mapping student progress?
  • How can we make sure that new challenges are the reward for achievement?
  • Are you offering the same levels of care to staff when working with their ZPD?
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