Heathdale flower 07th June 2024

The Goldilocks Zone

Discover how the 'Goldilocks Zone' concept applies to creating the perfect balance in teaching and learning for student success, and how it relates to having constructive conversations with students when reports come out.

Heathdale flower

No doubt you will remember the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Goldilocks seeks to make herself comfortable in Mr Bear's house. She has a definite opinion on the ideal conditions she likes in both beds and porridge. She is a specialist in her own desires and needs. She finds 'just right' only after dismissing 'too hot', 'too cold', 'too hard', 'too soft'.

Scientists have coined the term 'Goldilocks Zone' when observing the remarkably "just right" position of the Earth in our galaxy. For life to exist, our planet cannot be anywhere else. This "habitable zone is the region around a star where orbiting planets similar to the Earth can support liquid water. It is neither too hot, nor too cold." (BBC science website). If Earth was a little too far one way, it would be "too hot". Too far the other way, and it would be "too cold" to support life.

There is a Goldilocks Zone for teaching and learning too.

A student who finds the content being delivered either "too hard" or "too easy" may lose motivation; however, because the goal of learning is to advance knowledge and skill, we don't always deliver information and activities that are "just right" from the student's perspective. The teacher's sense of 'just right' will not only require the student to develop new skills and knowledge, but new character as they persist and struggle to understand.

The skill of the teacher is to match the level of instruction to each student's ability. We call this differentiation. The information and activities in class are made accessible for the variety of students by using both the craft and art of teaching. The process of student learning needs to be supported with information and encouragement.

The central requirement of the student is to actively work with the teacher to comprehend the information. It is a struggle sometimes. It is usually hard work. Learning is fashioned from conversations, and it usually is the result of long hours of sustained application.

I believe that this part of the process is a conversation between teacher, student and parent. Locating the Goldilocks Zone is not a lucky dip, nor a one-shot effort. It is a process of sharing, explanation, negotiation and application. It might take some time and require commitment. After all, we are growing a person. This is where the three-way partnership is so vital.

There is also a Goldilocks Zone in how students like to learn. Much in this zone is valuable and efficient. However, much is also a comfort zone where 'just right' is very likely to mean 'little effort' and 'quickly finished'. Just like Goldilocks in Mr Bear's house, students sometimes look to achieve comfort often at the expense of learning. They often like to use the quickest method to find the right answer. This economy of effort might be admirable, but is not always the teacher's goal.

We want students to think. Increasingly, we are choosing to disrupt their comfortable zone. We are asking them to problem-solve. We are calling them to use their creativity. We are becoming even more demanding in our desire for students to show originality of thought. All of these require significantly more effort than what is found in the comfort zone.

Examinations are an essential element in this process of challenge and response. We have just concluded our examination period and soon reports and results will be upon students and families. It is imperative that our conversations are not performance based; rather, we should be focused on discovering that connection between the effort, application and degree of challenge. Let our conversations be about the Goldilocks Zone for all children.