Research: In 1934, psychologist Lev Vygotski coined the term “zone of proximal development.” It represents the difference between what a student can do independently and what they can do with guidance and encouragement from a more knowledgeable person (i.e., a teacher). It’s the sweet spot in learning, where a student has enough knowledge to be comfortable and enough challenge to be intrigued and ready to stretch their learning.
Practice: In our experience, a lack of challenge creates boredom and disengagement, while too much challenge creates anxiety and stress. We aim for the zone of proximal development, or “just right” level of challenge, with each student. As teachers get to know students and their abilities they are able to match students with their ideal learning level and activities to support it. This level matches the right amount of teacher support with the right amount of challenge to encourage academic progress and performance.