Challenging All of Our Students DEENA TARLETON, LOWER SCHOOL HEAD
ecause much of what we do is built into our system, often parents do not realize the many ways we differentiate for the needs of all of our students in all areas of the mastery spectrum. Hopefully, this article will help you to understand some of the many ways this is accomplished at St. Anne’s. Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is a model for how learning should be delivered in order to obtain the maximum growth for the learner. Essentially, the model suggests that for everything any of us learn, there is a base level where we already have a considerable amount of knowledge about the topic, based on previous experiences. There is also a maximum level that cannot be reached regardless of having someone coach us one-on -one. Think of someone asking us to solve a quantum physics problem or write a dissertation not associated with our field of work. At the upper end of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), learning is simply too difficult even with a one-on-one coach. At the lower end of the model, learning is easy enough to be done independently. In education we try to match the instruction to a developmental level for the student that is not too difficult or too easy. Our goal for every subject for every student at St. Anne’s is to do our best to find that “just right” challenge where learning is maximized. One can imagine how complex this can be at times with a range of learners in a classroom. In reading we give ongoing assessments that help us determine the level of books that fit each student’s level of progress. These are called “just right books.” As skills are solidified, students move on to higher levels. Because comprehension strategies such as “determining how characters change throughout the story” and “watching for meaningful repetitions,” apply to most of the books students are reading at any one grade level, we can teach these to the whole class and have students apply these strategies to the leveled books that they are reading. For example, in the beginning of first grade, some of the children will test into a Level C book that has good text and picture match and very repetitious word patterns. Another child may test into a Level E Book with more complex vocabulary and fewer patterns. Both children can learn similar comprehension strategies such as “finding out about the character by noticing his/her actions.” This “mini-lesson” can be taught to the whole group. Other skills, such as phonological and decoding skills or strategies for moving to the next book level, may be taught in smaller groups, depending on the developmental needs of each child. Sometimes teachers will coach students individually. All of these teaching strategies are focused toward the challenge area of each child’s ZPD.
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