What Are the Students Coming to School With Besides Their Backpacks? Ignore This Question At Your Peril–Or, Really, At the Student’s Peril: More Stories from Classrooms That Work.

Today Miss Fournier taught me something I didn’t already know. Rob pours himself an afterschool bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, pauses before the first bite and adds, First time.

Rob was in 10th grade.

So how come it took 10 years of school for one of Rob’s teachers to teach him something new?

The answer’s simple really.  His teachers didn’t know what he knew. When teachers either teach kids things they already know or try to teach a kid something he isn’t at all ready to learn, they haven’t figured out his Zone of Proximal Development.

ZPD is the edge between what the student can do without help (Zone of Actual Development) and what he can do with help. Successful teaching requires knowledge of a student’s ZPD.

It’s a basic.

Here’s how using ZPD looks in Mrs. P’s writing workshop during conferring:

First I hear Mrs. P listen carefully to what the students say about their writing. Then she asks questions to clarify and deepen her understanding. She gets the students to verbalize what they know and then assists them to tackle what they don’t yet know or do, but are ready to learn.

Tell me how you revised this. Read me the sentences that tell more. Good effort. You used the model. Here’s another way to vary your sentence beginnings.

You love lists. So does E. B. White. Here’s a copy of Charlotte’s Web. I bookmarked the page with his list of what was in the barn. It’s a good model.

This is not acceptable. You can do better. Tell me what you need to do when you edit for punctuation. Do it. I’ll be back in five minutes.

Real improvement over last week: you’re using commas in a series just right. Let’s look at semi-colons. Curious George has good model sentences.

You’re using what you know about engines here. Try an engine metaphor. Use the Gary Paulson model.

This isn’t enough writing, not for you.  I’m going to put an X here, and you need to write down to this point. I’ll be back and then we’ll talk.

This is clear, but I can’t hear you in it. I want you to read your writing aloud to your family every night this week. Begin with Max here, over in the corner.

Come to the Opportunity Room today. Put your name in the square.

The touch-each-sentence tactic works for you ordinarily; did you use it this time? You need to get in the habit of using the strategies that work for you on your own before we go over your writing.  I’ll be back.

These teachers I’m watching know their kids. They know what they’re bringing to school with them besides their backpacks. They have different words for different kids.

ZPD lights a teacher’s mind and teaching decisions like a bright neon sign, every day, every minute. When it isn’t on, classrooms fail. When it is, they thrive.

Rob’s teachers needed a bulb for their ZPD sign.

Patty 10/20/11