Where does great learning happen?
10% outside the comfort zone
When does the best learning take place? The most concise answer I have heard to this question over the years is that students learn best when they are 10% outside their comfort zone. It makes sense. If they remain comfortably inside the zone and are doing “busy work” that does not challenge them; by definition they are not learning. If they are too far away from their zone and asked to do something for which they are not ready because the required skills and prior knowledge are not in place, they can panic, despair or give up. In Martin Skelton’s words, this feels like “drowning” and learning fails.
Sir John Jones speaks of something very similar when he says that “true learning and living exists in the world of development and risk, at the edge of your comfort zone”.
It is the teacher’s great skill to keep every student in their classes 10% outside of their individual comfort zones. When I see this in the classroom I know that the lesson has been pitched correctly and therefore great learning is going on for each individual. Let’s take it a step further. Comfort zones have a social and emotional dimension as well. Some children can be pushed. Some need to be pushed. Others need to be coaxed. All need to be understood and motivated as individuals. Effective differentiation therefore depends as much on the strength of the student – teacher relationship as on the measurement and tracking of academic progress. For Peter Hudson (See the Listening Bench), the key fact here is the teacher’s ability to listen to a student – no wonder he calls this skill “motivational listening”.
 Sir John Jones The Magic Weaving Business, Leannta Publishing, London, 2009, p. 106