Comfort Zones and Learning Zones: What We Learned from the Young Americans

We were very fortunate to invite the Young Americans to CDNIS from February 8-10 to collaborate with our Grade 6 students. The Young Americans is a group of passionate young performers committed to helping youth discover their creative potential through the power of music, dance and performance.

Me sing? You must be joking!

It was a memorable experience for students, teachers and parents. Personally, a memory for me, and one that I know will be long-lasting, is getting on stage to sing 8 lines of Twist and Shout by The Beatles. I know this song very well, having grown up listening to my father’s albums; however, the sheer fright I felt getting on stage to sing had me continuously forgetting the words! I’m perfectly fine getting on stage to deliver a speech or to do a silly dance in front of students, colleagues and/or parents. But to sing? Far from my comfort zone.
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And it was at this moment that I acknowledged that we ask our students to do this all the time – to take a risk and step outside of their comfort zones.

Process and Product

A major focus of the 3 days with the Young Americans was to maximise the participation of every student and provide them with the opportunity within a supportive environment to explore their creative side through the performing arts.  

On the evening of the show, all students experienced a significant amount of time on stage, performing with peers and, for the apparent intrepid ones, engaging in a solo act. I write “apparent” because for many, this was a courageous act that took them far out of their comfort zones. Even for any of those without solo acts, their nervousness prior to the performance was palpable and they were quite obviously out of their comfort zones.

Why care about comfort zones?

A comfort zone can be defined as a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

In educational theory we refer to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (the learning zone), which states that if a learner is always asked to engage within his/her comfort zone then no learning will take place and eventually there will be a loss of interest. If the challenge is too hard, frustration may result and the learner gives up. It is that middle zone, the zone of proximal development, where most of the learning takes place.

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Source: http://rossparker.org/the-learning-zone/

Finding that right balance – the learning zone – is an important key to creating a culture of learning in a school.

In the case of the Young Americans, I was on the edge of the Terror Zone singing Twist and Shout! However, given the right types of support – emotional, skills development, time to become proficient – our students move away from the comfort zone and into the learning zone.

And the result? Moving out of your comfort zone, while initially causing unease, allows for a sense of accomplishment. This generates a greater sense of self-awareness, knowing what is possible and that personal challenges or roadblocks can be overcome. This is the essence of a growth mindset.

At CDNIS we encourage our students to step into learning zones in the everyday context of teaching and learning, through camps and field trips, in productions, Spotlights and class assemblies, in sport, in learning conversations with parents and teachers and Scouts … just to name a few.

It is because of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development that we engage our students in experiential learning, so they can have a broad base of opportunities to step out of the familiar and embrace the unknown. After all, the world is constantly changing and therefore we are charged to equip our children with embracing the unfamiliar in a manner that will make it a better place for all.

I’ll let a Grade 6 student conclude:

The Young Americans were amazing! They don’t just teach dance moves or teach others how to sing and act, they also make people step out of their comfort zone and do things they never thought they would have done. The Young Americans are really supportive, joyful and full of energy.

If you’re interested in seeing the final performance, you can click here.

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