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Concourse 2



People are often told to monitor but rarely told how and when.
As we develop as teachers, we start to worry about this.


Two sorts of monitoring

Check monitoring and support monitoring are different.  If you can come up with a definition, do that now and then click on the headings to show the answer.

Check monitoring
Support monitoring


The Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky (1962) posited something known now as the Zone of Proximal Development or the ZPD.
Briefly explained, it is the learning zone in which the learner can achieve the task with a little help or scaffolding by someone who knows more (you).  It lies between tasks which the learner can already do without help (so won't learn much) and tasks which the learner cannot even attempt (so won't learn much).  If the task is too easy, the learner will get bored.  If it's too hard the learner will become anxious.

You can visualise it like this:


Part of the business of monitoring is to check that the task is in the red zone.  The other part is to supply just the level of help and information that the learners need to complete the task but no more or less.
If the task is too hard, you put the learner in the Anxiety zone (above left on the diagram).
If the task is too easy, you put the learner in the Boredom zone (below right on the diagram).
If you find yourself having to do the task for them or that your help is never needed, the task is outside the red zone and less useful (or even useless).
That's the theory.


Whether and how to monitor

The first step in developing your monitoring skills is to decide what you should be doing.  Clearly, at the outset of any task, you should do a bit of check monitoring but what next?

Decide what kind of task it is:

  1. Are you interested in the product?
    Do the learners need to get the task right before you can go on?
    Yes to both questions:
    • Is the task in the learners' ZPD?
      • Yes: monitor carefully, sit with your students and scaffold their efforts by helping and leading.  At the end, feedback from and to you should be thorough and searching.
      • No?  Then ask: Can you move the task to the ZPD by asking for more or helping more?
        • If you can, amend the task and start monitoring closely again
        • If you can't, change your plan now, cut the task short and get on.  Your planning was flawed.
  2. Is this task only one to raise awareness or get the learners thinking about the topic?
    Does it actually matter to the rest of the lesson what they come up with?
    Yes to the first question, no to the second question:
    • This is a process task:
      • You can wander around, pausing briefly to overhear what people are saying but you don't need to sit with the groups
      • You need to take some notes so you can focus on what some people came up with.  There's no need to get feedback from everyone.

Here's a kind of flow chart of this to keep on your desk in the lesson.



Where am I and where should I be?

More experienced teachers know intuitively and often unconsciously where they are needed in a classroom (face-to-face or online).  However, it is worth pausing at stages in lessons where the learners are working on tasks to focus explicitly on the questions above.

Much will depend on the layout of the room or the facilities available online (which are very much more limited, but that's another matter).
The following is adapted from the guide to teacher's roles in the initial plus section of this site (linked below).

teacher What role does the position of the teacher imply to you in terms of monitoring?
The teacher's positions are indicated by the symbol on the left.
Click on the diagrams to see some comments.
class animated

A little test is to think about a lesson you have recently taught and ask yourself where you were in the room and whether it was the appropriate place to be.


Improving your monitoring

Step 1: Plan what you will be doing

  1. Look at all the tasks in your lesson and apply the questions above.  The sort of task will determine the monitoring you do (and, incidentally, how you will handle feedback).
  2. Make sure that any product task really is in the learners ZPD.

If you want to try a short test on identifying task types click here.

Step 2: React accordingly in the lesson

  1. Always check monitor.
  2. Do not interfere with process tasks but know what's going on.
  3. Always sit with learners and stay longer when they are involved with product tasks.  Don't flit around.

You could explain to the learners what you are trying to achieve and get their feedback on whether they feel your monitoring seems more helpful and more relevant but be aware that some learners expect you always to be there to help, no matter how easy the task.  They need to take more responsibility.

Related guides:
feedback for more on feedback to and from learners
scaffolding this guide includes considerations of the ZPD and Vygotsky's theories
grouping learners for a simple guide to grouping learners for different task types
teacher roles for a simple guide in the initial plus section of the site
types of task for a consideration of how task types can be analysed
activity types for a consideration of what activities are actually for

Vygotsky, L, 1962
, Thought and Language, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press