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Helping All Learners: Readiness

How can I address varying degrees of learner readiness?

Readiness is different from ability or intellectual capacity. Readiness is a student’s entry point relative to a particular concept or skill at a given time. Teachers who are thinking about students' readiness ask themselves, "How ready is this student, for this task, today?" To differentiate responses to student readiness, a teacher constructs tasks or provides learning choices at different levels of complexity. It is important that all students have the same learning targets or goals that they are working toward, that students are matched to tasks based on some sort of pre-assessment data, and that all groupings are flexible—that is, that students can move to different groups at different points in time, and that readiness for one concept or skill is not necessarily indicative of readiness for another.

Wherever you are is the entry point. Kabir, poet and saint of India

Some ways in which teachers can adjust for readiness include:

  • Adjusting the degree of difficulty of a task to provide an appropriate level of challenge.
  • Adding or removing scaffolding such as teacher or peer coaching, use of manipulatives, or presence or absence of models for a task.
  • Adjusting the context of the task to make it more or less familiar based upon students’ prior knowledge.
  • Creating tiered tasks for students.
  • Varying direct instruction by individual or small group need.

Watch: Differentiating for Readiness

  1. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, how is “readiness” different from interest? As you consider attending to student/participant readiness when developing lessons/professional development sessions and assigning tasks, what will be your goal? 
  2. How do you currently determine the zone of proximal development of your students/participants, particular to a topic or task? What are some new or additional ways you can gather information on the readiness level and zone of proximal development of your students/participants?

Read: Teaching in the Zone of Proximal Development

As you read the text below, consider your role as a teacher, coach, or school leader. Work to apply the concepts to your role and think about how you can differentiate tasks for readiness to be within the zone of proximal development for each student/participant.

When differentiating instruction based on student readiness, tasks and learning activities should always be just in advance of each student’s current level of mastery. That is, teachers should create lessons and learning experiences that are within each student’s zone of proximal development. When content is presented or tasks are required that are at or below a student’s current mastery level, no growth will occur. A similar relationship exists if content or tasks are well above a student’s mastery level—frustration and confusion will result, but no growth will occur. Students respond to learning within their zone of proximal development because it represents the next logical step in their ongoing knowledge or skill development.

Locating the Zone of Proximal Development

Teachers, parents, and even students themselves can identify one’s zone of proximal development by knowing one’s current developmental level related to a concept or task and understanding what concepts or skills will develop next. Asking and answering questions, administering a pre-test or survey, and conducting careful observations are all ways to help determine the zone of proximal development for different students/participants. 
The concepts of scaffolding and tiering are helpful in understanding how targeting instruction within a student’s zone of proximal development can promote his/her learning.


For Teachers:

  1. How would you describe the difference between a student’s readiness and a student’s ability? 
  2. Teachers have the responsibility of pushing students into their respective zones of proximal development with tasks that are slightly more complex than each student could manage alone. What are the prerequisites to you creating these tasks? How will you go about doing all that is required of you if you are to truly differentiate for student readiness?
  3. Create an image, mentally or on paper, to represent the relationship between student readiness and the zone of proximal development. 

For School Leaders:

  1. Think about your faculty. How would you describe the difference between their readiness and their ability related to a specific concept, technique, or task? What are the implications of individual differences related to ability?
  2. Consider the launch of a new initiative or structure within your school. What is the impact of readiness on teacher response? How can the introduction or launch of a new initiative or structure be differentiated to be within the zone of proximal development for more of your teachers? What might be the impact of that on teacher response?