Concept thresholds: Another way to think about developmentally appropriate learning

Although it may not be currently a dominant intellectual strand, many schools, communities, and school leaders see the provision of “developmentally appropriate learning” as one of their essential purposes. I’m going to write more about the REAL School approach to social emotional learning in an upcoming post, but I was really struck by a concept being discussed by my friend Max Ray, twitter: @maxmathforum, and as originally reported to me by my wife, (see her financial education blog and on twitter: @mathforumFinEd) both are at the Drexel Math Forum.

Thresholds, as Max explains, are concepts that change a person’s way of understanding a discipline or subject area. After a person crosses a learning threshold, she cannot go back to her previous way of understanding.

This is an interesting way of thinking about what is developmentally appropriate and the concept of thresholds seems useful for helping teachers in the classroom design learning experiences that appropriately matched to a students’ current way of  understanding concepts in the discipline. Teachers often think about differentiating based learning style (whether are students visual or kinesthetic learners, for example), but rarely do we talk about differentiating by where students are in relation to understanding fundamental, paradigm-shifting concepts in a given discipline.


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