A message from Tim Caudle.
Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who came up with a theory known as the “Zone of Proximal Development.” Essentially what Vygotsky argued was that each student needs to be a little uncomfortable to reach his or her learning potential. Too uncomfortable and a student becomes overwhelmed and will eventually quit or break down, too comfortable and that student will not develop to his or her full potential. My job as an educator is to try and find that unique zone for each student.
A key element of Vygotsky’s theory that is often overlooked is the need for a social component in all this. Students who understand a concept can be of great help to their peers that are really struggling. That trust and interaction builds a community of learners that help lift each other up.
This past week I’ve seen great examples of students helping each other get better. I sat in and observed Dane Loeliger’s Algebra II class and saw how his students automatically jumped in to help explain concepts to each other while Dane was assisting others. The fact that it was natural and automatic speaks volumes of the learning community Dane has helped create in his classroom.
In my classroom students are struggling through learning how to write an argumentative paper comparing the French Revolution to the Arab Spring. To complete this successfully, they must critically analyze their sources to make sure the information they use is credible and accurate. Then they have to formulate a thesis that proves a historical argument and then create a paper that follows a specific style manual that affects how they formulate their footnotes and bibliography. Those things aren’t easy and they take great care and attention to detail but it’s important. Little things matter, and sometimes doing things the right way takes a lot of work. My goal is to walk them through these concepts and then let them help each other through the process. They are struggling, but they are also leaning on each other and helping each other. Creating a community of trust and support makes hard and frustrating things easier because students know that teachers and fellow students are doing this to help make them better. There are a lot of life lessons in all this, and I’m thankful to be in a place where I can see community in education on a daily basis.