A farmer does not increase a pig’s weight by weighing it every day. Likewise, standardized tests and other assessment methods do not necessarily make the student learn the material. Evaluation is a necessary part of education, but sometimes we use it simply as a motivator or as disciplinary action, instead of using it as a tool students and teachers can use to enhance learning. Education should include both action and reflection for the learner and the educator. One of the keys of learning is to use assessment in ways that encourage true learning of content and of essential life skills.
It is important for this learning that teachers balance the level of challenge with the level of physical and psychological safety. As Todd Miner noted in his presentation at the International Conference for Experiential Education, if the level of challenge is low and students are always in their comfort zone, also called the green zone, little learning may take place, potentially resulting in boredom. On the other hand, if students are in the red zone, or panic zone, little or no learning may occur. Callousness to learning may be the result (Dewey, 25-26).
The zone where most learning occurs is the yellow zone. There is enough challenge that the students are motivated to focus on the subject at hand, and interest is developed, but the student feels safe enough to take on the challenge. There is a level of excitement and anticipation, and the learner recognizes that there will be guidance along with psychological, emotional, and physical safety.
So, what are some of the principles for encouraging positive learning while avoiding the boring and panic zones? In his article “Walkabout,” Maurice Gibbons suggests that education should include adventure and challenge (117-122). In addition, he includes logical inquiry or investigation. Students should be encouraged to ask “What if” and “Then what?” This peaks the interest to discover. Self-discovery and creativity are important for sustaining curiosity. Gibbons also mentions that service is important in educating the learner. Ellen White takes this a step, stating, “Unselfishness underlies all true development. Through unselfish service we receive the highest culture of every faculty” (White, 16). In the Service Learning classes I have taught, students invariably demonstrate a positive change in life skills and interpersonal relationships, not to mention an increased level of learning, as they engage in experiential education. Service helps bring purpose to students’ learning. Doing things that are not purposeful leads to boredom. The life skills and purpose developed through service help learners to make decisions that are positive for themselves and everyone they meet. Learners often ask the question, “How will I use this in the future?” or “Will this learning give me ‘the edge’ for graduate school or a job?” The aspect of true service is something that is critical to a positive educational experience. Mentorship is also a key factor to enhance the yellow zone level of learning because it helps enhance the sense of safety for students.
If we want our students to grow, to “increase in weight,” we cannot content ourselves with measuring what students currently know. When we find ways to make learning and assessment purposeful and fun for the learner, and couple it with a commitment to caring for our students, we can increase the “weight.”
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
Gibbons, M. et al. (1976). The Secondary Education (Report of the Phi Delta Kappa Task Force). Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa.
Miner, T. et al. (2011). Bulls-eye: How Comfort Zones Model Works and How to Work Better! Presentation at Association for Experiential Education International Conference. Jacksonville, Florida.
White, E. (1903) Education. Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.