Friday, June 17, 2011

In the Zone

The philosophical basis of the Primary Years Program is built on the theories of constructivism. Constructivism learning theory argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from interactions between their experiences and ideas. They construct understandings based on the information they have learned in the past. A key part of this in practice is being able to maintain students in their zone of proximal development. This means that their learning should be at an appropriate level so that it challenges them, but is not beyond what they are capable of. For us to ensure that we are keeping our students 'in the zone' we need to know what they are capable of.

Throughout learning this is achieved by regular formative assessment. This helps us to keep track of where we currently are and where we need to go in the future. Another important element of this is pre-assessment. This is completed at the beginning of an inquiry so we can ascertain where we should begin. For example, there is no point jumping into a lesson on adding fractions if the students don't know what a denominator is! The same obviously works the other way and sometimes students become disconnected from class if they're not inspired by the work. Obviously the difficulties come for teachers as they inevitably find out that there are varying levels of ability throughout a class. Learning has to be catered for all of these levels and requires dedicated work from teachers to ensure that this is happening.

Sometimes I get the feeling that we gloss over pre-assessment and don't give it due credit. Mindmaps, T-charts or a picture analysis can be great tools for pre-assessing students, as long as they are not seen as ways in order to simply tick a box. Better still, we should make sure we provide pre-assessment tasks that cater for a variety of learning styles and abilities. We need to ensure that our pre-assessments are differentiated - there's no excuse for not keeping our students in the zone of proximal development purely because of what stage we are at in the inquiry. By guaranteeing developmentally challenging pre-assessment, we learn valuable information about our students that can lead to more authentic, meaningful inquiry in the future.


  1. I think a lot of the time our pre-assessments asses facts rather than conceptual understanding. My goal or next year is to have a journal that focuses on the PYP concepts to see how their understanding changes over the course of the year. If our pre-assessments are geared toward conceptual understanding then we can really differentiate learning and have students their on inquiries.


  2. I totally agree and this will be the focus of a strategy we'll be implementing in Grade Four this year. The aim is to improve the environment in which we offer high quality education. We'll be using a tool to revise and refine our assessment practices with the view to facilitate deeper understanding.