This is a post I wrote a while back on why so many schools who have the resources choose to take students on adventure trips for the day or overnight. Hint: It’s not physical endurance but a focus on learning. And you don’t need expensive equipment and you don’t even need to be outdoors to enable the adventure of learning.
Imagine a cleared space in the forest and a circle drawn with a rope; “This is your comfort zone – the space where you are confident and at ease. This you can already do. We all have our comfort zone. It takes many shapes and it is different for all of us.”
Then another rope makes a circle around the first. The ring between the inner and outer circle is the “stretch zone” – the area of discovery, growth and risk – the space into which we must all step if we are to try something unfamiliar and expand our comfort zone. Beyond the stretch zone lies the panic zone – a place where no-one wants to be. With these simple concentric circles the outdoor education leader has established the common ground that connects all of us as unique learners.
Vygotsky investigated problem solving, and how the mind goes about acquiring and mastering new skills and knowledge. According to Vygotsky the learner has two areas of development. The current area of development encompasses all that the learner can do independently – those skills and that knowledge that are within our grasp and compass. The “comfort zone” – if you will. Beyond that area lies what he termed the zone of proximal development, or zpd – those skills, knowledge and abilities that are within our reach but not yet grasped.
Learning he claimed is an essentially social activity. The role of the teacher is not that of simplifying new knowledge and doling it out in measurable doses, but of providing new content, and the context within which the learner may safely step from the current level of understanding to a higher level. In this model the learner and the social situation are interdependent and the teacher is the skilled mediator. The teacher’s role is to act – in Vygotsky’s phrase – as the “loaned consciousness’, as one who is able to help students on an as-needed basis and to introduce the content and create the context. It is very easy to observe this process in outdoor education. The learner, confronted with a challenge- say rappelling, works out how to accomplish the task. The support of peers and the guidance and security of the loaned consciousness of the teacher enable the learner to take the risk of stepping out and trying something new.
It can also be a lot of fun.