We've heard of the "comfort zone". We've heard of the "panic zone". But what about the "learning zone"? What does it feel like to actually learn?
We can't learn when we're too comfortable. Boredom puts us to sleep. Daydreaming distracts us. We feel like a class is a waste of our time because the content/activity/lecture is totally useless or unrelated. So we check out, shut down, take a walk, or cut class.
Okay, so what do we do to ensure kids aren't falling asleep in class? We push them out of their comfort zone, right? Make them work with a partner they're not friends with. Make them take a pop quiz. Throw a ton of vocab words at them to study for a test. Increase the workload. Challenge them. Expect a lot out of them.
However....too much pushing leads kids into the panic zone. We can't learn when we're in panic. Panic sounds like I hate this class, I want to drop out of school, I don't care, I give up, I'm so done with this. Panic looks like shutting down, skipping class/school, crying, feeling anxious/depressed, feeling worthless or like a failure. When our bodies are in a constant state of anxiety and arousal (sounds like adolescence, right?), we can't learn.
Push the kids, but not too far. The problem is, not every kid has the same sized learning zone. Not every kid has the same level of tolerance for what panic can feel like (and it can feel terrifying).
For example, consider two types of students. Resilient students are frequently in the learning zone. They are curious, self-driven, and thrive in the feeling of being "in the zone". They want to do well because it makes them feel confident. They learn quickly. Perfectionist students are frequently in the panic zone. They panic when things aren't going right. They tell themselves "I'm stupid" or "I don't get this. I give up". They give up before they had enough chance to practice and learn. They have trouble handling the feeling of frustration and failure. Pushing these students out of comfort and into learning is challenging, because the boundaries are so tight. They frequently pass from comfort into panic. It's difficult to keep perfectionists in the learning zone.
Here's the problem- the culture of school naturally teaches kids to maintain a perfectionist mindset. Actually, the culture of our society does this too, but that's for another blog post.
I wonder, what would happen if we....
1) Teach kids to identify what it feels like to be in the panic, learning, and comfort zones
2) Encourage kids to develop and practice coping strategies to get themselves out of panic and into learning.
3) As teachers, know how to know when the class is too comfortable, and push the kids safely out of their comfort zones (but not too far into panic).
I asked my students to come up with examples of what the comfort, learning, and panic zones look and feel like. Here's what they came up with.
Normalize and validate feelings of panic, help the students draw themselves back into learning, and educate students about the importance of challenging the boundaries of the comfort zone. I'm excited to try out this new mindset this semester.
Thanks for reading this week. I appreciate your feedback, leave a comment and let me know what you think about this post or just teaching in general!