Harry Potter, multisyllabic words and more. In this episode Andy, Emily and Adam cover Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. How can you find balance between challenge and support? Does comprehension matter more than speed? Plus, top reading tips for parents.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello? I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the School of School Podcast.
Hello, welcome. We are back again and today we are looking at the zone of proximal development. So, that's a mouthful. Who's going to kick us off on this one today?
This is obviously without visual assistance. So what I want you to think about is kind of like a dart board, rings on a bullseye, if you like. And if you think of the center. If you think of the center circle, that's what we can do without any assistance. I don't know, there might be a book that we can pick up and read fluently without any issue. Then let's jump right to the outside ring. Think of three rings, easiest way to do it, I guess. The outer ring is something that we find almost impossible to access. It's very, very, very difficult to access. So again, just think of a text, think of a book that might be...
So the zone of proximal development and where a lot of learning can take place is the ring in between. So we can learn, but we may need support and assistance to do so. So we are building on what we've already got, but we need a level of assistance. So it's not a massive leap into something brand new. And I think this is really important that we understand that because sometimes we might... I'll just use a book for an example. I might read a certain book fluently, which may suggest that I can then go on just to read any book fluently, but that may not actually be the case. So I might need to take something that is just posing enough challenges that I can be successful for the majority of it, but need a bit of assistance and support with some aspects of it. And that's the new learning part. So it's not brand new learning. Does that make sense?
So as an adult, a great example would be, "Okay, I can read Harry Potter, I get it. I can read it. I get it. I Understand it. I enjoy it. I'm getting full benefit from reading that. I'm struggling with Hamlet." Right? "I need someone who can unpick the different language, the complex structures, the complex storyline." That's just in my zone of proximal development. I can get that. I'm reading a technical journal, maybe a medical journal is way out of my reach. It's not something that I can grasp. It's too far away. I need to learn too many things to get there. You know? It's that kind of idea.
So Andy, you're reading your medical journal and it's far too... You don't even know where to start, the terminologies all over the show. Let's say, I get a doctor and I've got a doctor friend. And I say, "Look, Andy's having a problem reading this." The other thing we've got to be really mindful of is that, the doctor might sit down with Andy for four hours and they might struggle through the whole thing, but that doesn't necessarily mean that that's the best learning because it can still be too far out of the zone of proximal development, and really the doctor's doing all the hard work, which the doctor already knows. And Andy's kind of playing along or just, just grasping it but tomorrow without the doctor, another medical journal, he's at sea.
So I think it's really important. So I just think of this at home. Sometimes when we give our children something brand new, or we are learning something brand new alongside our kids. Yeah, of course we want struggle. There should be a bit of struggle because whenever there's something new they, of course, we struggle with it because it's new understanding, but we don't want it to be such a struggle that actually we're not even sure what we're learning. We just need so much assistance that it's not really us that's...
It has to be within grasp.
It has to be within grasp for the word.
That's incredibly relevant with children when they're learning to read. And I think parents it's so easy to sort of think, "Why that book didn't seem hard enough," or that kind of concept, I think, is not rare when a book goes home, a child's book for learning to read. And actually, there's a point where you kind of want them to be 90% fluent in order to introduce some new concepts into the book at that level, rather than going for a 100% new stuff, really complex words. But let's say you were introducing multi syllabic words to try to get the children to start reading more multi syllabic words in the text. You don't want the rest of the words to be things that they're going to have to bring a whole new load of learning to. They need to have some level of fluency with that in order to then focus on maybe the new phonemes or graphemes that they're looking at or the multi syllabic words as I was saying, or something like that. Is it's something that is really, I don't think, often fully understood in scaffolding early reading books. And so yeah, I hear you. I think it's really important.
When we're working at home, the other thing we need to be mindful of, and this is where there is a crossover between literacy and or reading and maths, and that's simply, when we read we might be able to phonically decode something. So I've got no doubt that we'll go back to Andy and his medical journal, that he would be able to make the right sounds in the right places for the majority of the words. Yeah. And we're going to need to be really careful with this--
Well, maybe somebody else, maybe not me but...
But as a general rule, we might be able to phonically decode. So for those of you don't know what that means, that's just making the right sound of a symbol. A symbol represents sound, so on and so forth. But I think that's the problem is that we need to be really, really careful both with reading and mathematics, that that doesn't overshadow understanding.
So I think that when you are looking at children and they're making the right sounds and their maths works. So for example, they might be able to read, "Four plus three equals seven." You said, "Well, how's that going to help you? Add five plus three." You know? That's then, if you like, maths for comprehension, same with reading for comprehension, is making the right sounds at the right time is fine but that isn't the only level of success or understanding. And so I think when we're at home that that's just something to be really mindful of, is that even if children are very fluent with what they're saying, we just need to keep thinking. And I always use the reading idea for mathematics too, is that we want children to be able to, well, read for pleasure. We want them to be able to understand the story and predict and all of those sorts of things. Exactly the same applies to maths, is that it's not just about decoding and making the right sounds. It's that understanding.
As a parent, it's such an easy trap to fall into because you love your children so much. You want to see them progress. You want to see them succeed. You just put, "My kid can do this. You know? He's really smart. I know he is. He's better than this. You know?" You're giving him books that are too easy for him. He needs more challenge. And it's such an easy trap to fall into. But you just got to remember that, you know, learning is much more complex than that. It's not about speed. It's not about getting there quickly. It's about depth. And it's asking a child to talk about the story after he read it is often more valuable than just reading another book. Like, "Okay. What did you think? Why did so and so do such and such?" Not just, "What happened?" Not just recalling the fact, but actually having a discussion. "Why would someone do that? Would you do that? Would you have done something else?" Those just deep discussions around books are so much more important sometimes than just "Let's read something more challenging."
Absolutely. I mean, the amount of comprehension and vocabulary that you can support your child in, with book talk and talking around those books and is just so important. I mean, equally the other trap that I often see, which people will laugh at, that people fall into is that they'll suddenly feel that then they're asked too many questions and then the children can't enjoy the story. So make sure that you just read enough of the story that it's fun, and then ask the questions. Then like, "Oh. Tell me what you think about the..." You know, you start kind of dissecting.
So you can fall into traps all over the place, but I'm with you, Andy. I think talking about the books, talking about the maths is really important. And for me, speed is just a bugbear in any kind of maths and literacy learning because it's just a misunderstanding. It's just because they read that book in five minutes... And I have to say, there are a lot of products on the market that are all about how fast can you read this? It doesn't mean that they've comprehended or grasped or secured the knowledge, whether it's fiction or nonfiction or poetry, of that reading experience in its wider sense.
Yeah. So this is getting heavy into the theory. So obviously zone of proximal development, that's Lev Vigotsky. Russian, I guess he was a psychologist, wasn't he, at heart? You know? That was his idea. Now we're talking about Piaget. It's that assimilation and accommodation, that idea. The idea is assimilating is just grabbing a whole bunch of facts and just remembering them. That would be assimilation. And accommodation is making space for those new facts in you're understanding, in your worldview, whatever it is, so that you can tie it in and tie it all together. Accommodating for the new knowledge. That's what you're striving for. That takes time. You can't just race to that. You need to be able to reflect. Going back. Now, we're throwing a lot of theory in here. You're going back to Dewey now, John Dewey. I'm quoting this wrong but, "We don't learn from doing. We learn from reflecting on what we've done." And that's important to understand and you need to have that reflection time in there.
And working on early years stuff, I always love working, talking to earlier-years practitioners because they're always the best at reminding us about just allowing them to play with those concepts and be in those spaces and just read-
... imagine, and feeling. And you know? Just yeah. Playing with all of that. And there's such rather than just feeding the information, but really experiencing it as well.
Yeah. We forget as adults, especially as parents, especially because there's so much emotion wrapped up in being a parent, we forget what it's like not to know something that... And we're robbing them that experience of discovering it, if we're pushing too hard and too fast.
Just a little top tip that I'm just going to throw in there. And it comes from reading. And I know that what I've found as a dad, helping homework since the children, and reading at home since they were little tiny tots, so not even wearing my teacher hat, but I always found that that you, as a parent, were always offered more guidance on questioning when it came to reading and some books they even have key questions inside them and some publications and so on and so forth. And I think that I'm not suggesting that you use all of these, but you can use them in maths. I think it's a really untapped resource like prediction. Prediction's a really big part of reading. Well, "What do you think is going to happen when?" So these sorts of just a little tiny tip that if you do get questions from school and if you do get the types of things that you can ask in a book, most of them are pretty applicable to mathematics.
So whether it's, "Why do you think Sue felt like this after this happened? Why do you think Amira did it this way?" Now I'm not saying that you should try to do it all the time. You don't want to try to squeeze all of these questions in. But I just think that getting that deeper understanding we can-
... use the same type totally, we can use exactly the same sorts of approaches because we're seeing more than just a calculation and just a simple function that ends up with an answer. You know? So it's just a little thing that you may or may not have depending on what you get sent home. But I just think it's a bit of an untapped resource at times that you can apply.
Oh, I love, I love that Adam. I'm going to remember that when I'm doing the math stuff with my kids because that's an easy transferable one-
Sparingly though. Sparingly.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, but I love it. The other tip that I was going to say, which you were making me think about, that thing when kids are tired and you want them to do some... So something that I do for kids no... It's a good thing for adults to try sometimes actually. There's such rich, wordless books by people like David Wiesner and people like... There's some amazing rich. Is it Aaron Beck as well? Like no words at all. It goes up for the kids that are going into graphic novels that hardly have any words in.
You get a child to sit, who is perhaps normally, they're tired, they don't want to do the reading of the words, they can give you such a rich reading of their words of what's happening in the story. The way that they can actually read pictures because they haven't been kind of, that's not been thrashed out of them, which often happens. That kind of ways of seeing of looking and pondering. And they'll tell you the story. And I sometimes think at home, we should send home more wordless picture books for the kids to tell us the story because they just... that that can be such a, as another learning experience, but it's a very rich and wonderful thing.
Well, especially when you go back to zone proximal development and that it's one of those where it's taking out some of the variables that can make it harder. So once you, once you take that out... There's a book called Zoom, I think it's called, that comes out now and now. And I'll use that with-
Yeah. I love that.
... secondary school maths teachers. And it's phenomenal what you can do with it. Or, you know, you can use it obviously with very small children too, but it allows that scope for access that perhaps other books don't. So completely agree with you there, mate.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.
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