Why Goldilocks Had It Right

Who comes to mind when you think of education pioneers? Vygotsky? Piaget? Erikson? Kohlberg?

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How about Goldilocks? Turns out, this favorite character’s philosophy was already aligned with one of the most powerful educational concepts used today: the “Zone of Proximal Development.” Who would have guessed?

Defining the Zone

Learning happens in the zone of proximal development.  This is defined as the place where learning is challenging enough to be interesting, but never so challenging as to be overwhelming.  It’s within this zone that learning occurs.

We’re like Goldilocks. We don’t want our porridge too hot or too cold.  Unless it’s just right, we’re not all that interested.

As Daniel Willingham explains in his book Why Don’t Students Like School, “Curiosity prompts people to explore new ideas and problems, but when we do, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem.  If it’s too much or too little, we stop working on the problem if we can.”

He continues, Solving problems brings pleasure…there is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking... Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable.  In fact, it’s frustrating. Then too, there’s not great pleasure in simply knowing the answer.” If it’s too easy, the solving part goes by too quickly and the enjoyment is lost. If it’s too challenging, the pleasure of finding a solution is never achieved.

As educators, our role is to create that optimal zone for our students.  Like Goldilocks’s porridge, we aim to create a zone for each of our students that’s “just right,” fostering satisfying, successful learning.   


Customizing the Zone

At Vine, this customization is applied to every subject.  In math, we continually give individualized problems to each student in order to constantly find just the right level of difficulty.  When a student is asked to answer an open-ended question in history or science, we ask for different depths of response according to each one’s ideal zone.  In literature, we constantly match students with novels paired with each one’s ideal zone of learning as well.

Students thrive when taught when taught within the zone of proximal development. The enjoyment and satisfaction of working in this zone results in authentic learning, which in-turn leads to a more positive attitude toward education. We’re committed to creating an optimal learning environment for each of our students; the concept of the zone of proximal development is one of many powerful tools we use to make this happen.