03: Learning in the Challenge Zone





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Key Ingredients to Learning in the Challenge Zone:
  • High expectations combined with high levels of support (high challenge + great scaffolding)
  • Explicit content language scaffolding
  • Builds on prior knowledge and experiences
  • Teacher understanding of subject specific language needed to be successful
  • Positive teacher student relationships
  • Positive teacher beliefs (see below)
Key Positive Beliefs: Positive beliefs are important to teaching because they influence teacher expectations and teacher choices relating to students.  Key positive beliefs include:
  • Believe in students in terms of their potential, not in terms of current abilities
  • Focus on Uncovering as opposed to covering material
  • Reflect on teaching and learning practices
  • See culturally diverse classroom as a resource and opportunity, not as a problem



Cultivating the right beliefs and skill sets to support ALL learners is important to building positive teacher-student relationships and to implementing effective scaffolding.  The idea that material is Uncovered, not covered can remind teachers to select methods for teaching that promote deeper understanding of material.  Leveraging students’ diversity, as opposed to bemoaning it, is a way to model greater appreciation of diversity for students.


Preparation Steps
  • Reflect on one’s beliefs towards students when things are going well and things are not going well
  • Research team building and relationship building activities
  • Research key language needed to think effectively within one’s content
Early Implementation
  • Facilitate activities and routines that build a positive culture of trust and safety
  • Use pre-planned and emergent scaffolding to teach content and language simultaneously.  See Literacy articles for ideas.
  • Reflect upon scaffolding activities in order to improve them
Advanced Implementation
  • Develop routines that celebrate student achievement of various types
  • Facilitate practices and routines that get students to reflect upon and celebrate their academic progress and achievements
  • Develop activities and routines that emphasize transfer of knowledge to novel situations
  • Find ways to incorporate diversity into content teaching

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