Chapter 1: page 6

Premise #2. Learning Must be Challenging

The next premise of this textbook is that learning must be challenging. We borrow from developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

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In our classrooms, we adapt the ZPD to the Zone of Appropriate Challenge and Growth. When teachers recite a pre-scripted curriculum that doesn’t assess the students’ prior knowledge and appropriate level of challenge, students end up in the center—“the Comfort Zone”—where they are not engaged, they are bored, and they become passively complacent about learning.

On the outer edge, when teachers don’t adequately assess what students don’t know yet, because they haven’t asked them, and they either go through material too fast or without proper support, students can end up in the “Panic Zone,” where learning becomes overwhelming. It is important to note that all learning can be difficult, which is where time and support is important from your teacher, and knowing your own learning styles and strategies is important from you.

Therefore, the optimal zone for learning is the “Growth Zone,” right between “comfort” and “panic.” Growth happens when learners work through the appropriate level of challenge; challenge should be determined both by your teacher and the way they set up their classroom; and by you and the way you set up your flexible, growth mindset.


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