‘It is too easy for him.’ ‘He does it so quickly.’ ‘Do you have harder work?’ ‘He can read these books all by himself. They seem too easy’. These are frequent statements and questions by parents in all schools around the world as they respond to homework that comes home. My response is always, ‘you have just shared that the work is at the exact right level for your child’. What I actually l mean in educator speak is that we have correctly identified the Zone of Proximal Development.
In every profession, there are famous experts who have discovered a breakthrough concept or solution. In education, we have quite a few common names such as Jean Piaget and his theory of cognitive development, Sigmund Freud and the developmental stages, and Maria Montessori and her model of human development. Every teacher working in schools today has studied these models to better understand how classrooms can successfully help every child learn.
Jean Piaget’s Zone of Proximal Development, ZPD, is one that is tried and tested every day, in every school setting. We know that in order for the brain to learn, a child must be taught in a way where the learning is measured and targeted at different levels of ease and discomfort. If something is always too hard, a child will not be able to make the connections to learn how to do it independently. If something is easy, it allows the brain time to practice and master a skill without too much effort or strain that can lead to frustration and mistakes.
During a child’s seven hour day with us, we put as much learning at the ZPD level as possible. That is us making sure our students work is always on the cusp of too hard and allowing them to learn and develop at just the right level. What parents see at home is work that is for mastery and practice. We want our pupils to be able to complete the work independently, so it is purposely outside of the ZPD. Every person, especially children, will resist learning if the failure rate always beats out the success rate. Would you ever had learned to cook if you chose to make a soufflé as your learning recipe? Most likely not as the learning curve would have been too steep and it was setting you up for failure again and again.
I am now going to link this back to our core values as the ZPD is the behind the scenes method for how we are teaching courage and curiosity. We are ensuring that our boys remain curious for learning by providing opportunities that are sometimes hard, but more often in their ZPD and the easy/mastery level. We are allowing our boys to show courage as work in the ZPD is never easy and boys have to concentrate to complete it. They have to have courage to know that they will succeed and that the skill needed is achievable.
So what exactly is my message? Our curriculum has our students being pushed above and beyond what children are doing in other schools and there is a very clear and scientific method to our work. When you are tempted to ask your child’s teacher the questions from the start of this article, ask yourself ‘why might it be too easy? What learning is their teacher helping my child master?’. As always, please do continue to have conversations with your child’s teacher to reassure yourself that they are being pushed and learning. This is certainly the case at our school, with our outstanding curriculum and pedagogy hard at work every single day.