Finding the zone

Getting in the zone has helped sisters Bree and Holly Bishop set individual learning goals in the maths classroom that leave nothing to chance.

The Melbourne educators have created developmental rubrics to teach students in what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) - just outside their learning comfort zone.

Holly, Numeracy Coordinator at Westgarth Primary School, and Bree, Grade 3-6 Coordinator at Carwatha College P-12, are both passionate about student feedback and assessment for teaching.

'I feel that planning from the data is the most important thing we can be doing as teachers, provided we have the right information,' Holly says. 'We wanted assessment that ... provided real evidence that we could use for effectively teaching students at their exact point of need.'

Research suggests that learning is most likely when students are in their ZPD. Inspired by Holly's postgrad studies at the University of Melbourne during a unit on Clinical Assessment, the sisters set about creating rubrics for each of the dimensions of the AusVELS Mathematics domain.

'We had to break each content descriptor down into a set of skills [from] lowest to highest order thinking, and within a set of capabilities,' Holly explains.

'For example, for our current 'Chance' learning sequence we decided that for Level 3 we required three capabilities ('Chance Vocabulary', 'Probability with equal chance', and, 'Probability with unequal chance').'

They used the skill set to create assessments and the results were put into a Guttmann Chart to show student ZPDs. 'This does seem like an awfully long task, and it was, but now we have completed it we will always be able to use it and understand the learning needs of our students.'

Although between them they teach Grades 4-6, they assessed across Levels 3-6 to take into account the spread of student skills and abilities. Holly says this targeted approached has paid dividends.

'[Students] ... are going home and practising the skills they have written as their goals in order to move along the developmental continuums. They have had goals to achieve in the past, but in that time the continuums have been more about the concept, and it is not broken down into a set of achievable skills.'

All students have moved along the continuum for each of the learning sequences. She adds, from a teaching perspective, the tools have also guided lesson planning, enabling them to design differentiated activities meeting individual needs.

'I feel much greater confidence in my ability to support each student in their learning ... additionally, I am able to report specifically on each student’s ability within the AusVELS Mathematics curriculum and provide exact information about their future learning needs with 100 per cent confidence.'

The sisters have been teaching colleagues about creating developmental rubrics and using Guttmann Charts to find their students ZPD’s. They also shared their work at this year's Excellence in Professional Practice Conference.

Further reading

Dreyfus, S. E. (2004) The Five-Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition. Bulletin of Science Technology Society. 24: pp 177

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers. New York, NY Routledge

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77 (1), 81-112

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. Retrieved from

Mcleod, S. (2010). Simply Psychology. Retrieved from

Petty, G. (2009). Evidence-Based Teaching. United Kingdom. Nelson Thornes Ltd.

Timperley, H. (2009). Using Evidence in the Classroom for Professional Learning. Paper presented to the Ontario Education Research Symposium, Canada.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006) Understanding by Design. New Jersey. Pearson Education Inc.

How are you using data to support practice in your school?

Do you know where students are it in their learning continuum?