Get in the Zone (of Proximal Development)

Kitchen tables across the country continue to accumulate worksheets as parents grapple with this unforeseeable shift in their daily routines. Crumpled miscalculations intersect with sloppily jotted “eureka” ideas and parents are left to mediate between these diametric experiences with online learning. We are collectively facing the largest disruption to America’s education system, with parents on the forefront of this meliorism, lending an unprecedented amount of attention to the scholarship of their children. Parents are becoming teachers, guidance counselors, and (on bad days) school security officers. Recognizing this added pressure to the already stressful task of raising good humans, Ethan Allen Preparatory hopes to provide some tools to make the learning process less stressful and, dare we say, fun for both students and parents!
No Pain, No Gain? Try no Game, no Gain.
Let’s revisit the kitchen table. I want you to picture your child as “the perfect student.” What do you see? Silent determination, maybe? Perhaps you’re envisioning a focused, stoic teenager tirelessly producing and advancing from one assignment to the next with little lag time and zero error. Well, this vignette is painting the picture of someone who is dangerously close to exiting the Zone of Proximal Development. Let’s define this term:
Zone of Proximal Development: the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner.

Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development, theorized by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky, is the “sweet spot” of learning. This is where you want your student to be. It’s where confidence is born and where motivation is bolstered. Well, how do you help your student get in the zone? Make learning a game.

There are great resources available online to make games out of academic content. My favorite is a free, online jeopardy game that allows you to study for assessments by formulating your own questions and answers based on your assignments ( This works by forcing students to honestly assess what they know and what they don’t know. In doing so, they exercise their memory recall, which typically only occurs during testing periods. The development of creative questions competes with memory recall for the most consequential facet of this learning process. Be sure to emphasize the importance of developing creative questions because it will help your student process and consolidate the information. Have them spend at least 45 minutes making their game, then play it together as a family! Creating academic games establishes an achievable challenge, accentuating effort-related improvement. With each correct answer, the brain will reward this effort with a rush of dopamine, reinforcing the learning process. If your student is not sold yet, maybe the mascot selection will entice them to give it a try.
Make learning a game - Ethan Allen Prep, Ridgefield CT
We are all lifelong learners. Our knowledge inevitably builds on itself as we age. The act of processing, compartmentalizing, and later calling upon new information is an unavoidable part of the human existence. The greatest disservice we could do to school-aged children is to equate the acquisition of new knowledge with displeasure. During this quarantine, parents are in a unique position to model a positive attitude toward education. This conduct could impact your child’s mindset toward school and learning for years to come. So, EAP encourages you to have fun getting in the zone (of proximal development)!

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