The Zone of Proximal Development
What should you teach, and when should you teach it? Well, this program breaks kayaking down into a variety of individual skill areas, each possessing sequential benchmark skills that students are led through. At times the various series overlap, but it is up to you as an instructor to determine the final progression that you will use to introduce your students to the sport. Imagine a ladder, good that’s it. Now envision each of the individual rungs on the ladder as representative of an individual skill. What it is important to realize as an instructor is that you must constantly consider which rungs are within reach for your students. If you attempt to get students to lunge for a rung that is beyond their reach, when they miss they will fall, when they fall they will hit the ground, and when they hit the ground it will hurt. If you hurt your students, physically, psychologically or emotionally: game over.
Here’s another way to think about it: imagine a target with three concentric circles. Let’s call the innermost circle the safety zone, the middle circle the zone of proximal development, and the outermost circle the danger zone (that’s a hint).
The safety zone represents the skills that your student has mastered; therefore he or she will generally be happy here. Students experience consistent success and get a ton of positive reinforcement in the safety zone. Unfortunately, students do not learn new skills in the safety zone; therefore, it is your responsibility to move them into the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development consists of all the skills that are currently within reach of your student, but have not yet been mastered (basically, the next rungs on the various ladders that he or she has been working his or her way through).
The danger zone is made up of all those skills that are out there, but not within your students reach, while there may or may not be any physical danger associated with attempting these skills, the near guarantee of failure is a psychological hazard. For example, let’s take a look at a new playboater who can successfully spin left 90% of the time, and right 80%. Well, 80% is considered the threshold for mastery, so both of these skills would fall in the safety zone, they should be used to reinforce good habits, and for a confidence boost when necessary.
The zone of proximal development, at this point, contains a variety of skills including low angle cartwheels and round houses; these are the skills where targeted instruction will have the greatest impact. The danger zone includes a ton of sweet tricks that make your friends jealous, but would absolutely frustrate your student, such as the air screw, phonix monkey, loop, even the blunt, split wheel or clean cartwheel, these should all be shelved until your student’s skill increase and these skills begin to slip into the zone of proximal development. Teach to your audience.
Break down skills
Familiarize yourself with the ladders that make up the backbone of this program. Determine what individual skills you will teach to your students and the order in which you teach them. In addition, you should break each skill down into a series of manageable steps so you can increase the frequency of student success. The positive reinforcement of success will push your students much further, much faster than the power of your personality. It is important to do this without being transparent. Praising students for every inconsequential step has the potential to water down true success and begin to feel condescending. Walk the tightrope.
Students should be aware of the step they are working on, and its ultimate purpose
Let them see what’s coming without getting too overly caught up in the subtle nuances of upcoming skills. As students master individual skills help them manage their personal zone of proximal development by formally introducing new techniques that they can begin to work on. Remember, celebrate success without being disingenuous or insincere.
Use the zones to manage people’s comfort and confidence
Although no new learning occurs in the zone of proximal development, it is still an asset for the skilled instructor. What do you now know about the zone of proximal development? That’s right, students in the zone of PD are succeeding; they’re practicing skills they have already mastered, which reinforces good habits and just plain feels nice. Whenever you’ve been stretching a student deep into the zone of proximal development long enough that they are at the risk of becoming frustrated, let them slip back into the safety zone get a taste of good, old-fashioned success. Once your student has rebuilt his or her confidence, begin the process all over again.