Threshold training is a common term in distance running. It’s one of the most productive types of training that an aspiring athlete can do. The proper pace for threshold training is about 90% of maximum heart rate, and training in this way can significantly improve a runner’s speed.
In maths, children also have a ‘threshold.’ In educational research, this is known as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) – defined as the narrow band that is the difference between what a learner can do without help, and what he or she can do with help. DoodleMaths identifies this zone and creates a daily-practice work program based around it, filling in gaps and ensuring continual progression.
If a runner took a light jog every day for 15 minutes, she’d never improve. But on the other hand, if she trained at 95% of maximum heart rate every day, she may suffer exhaustion, and injury or perhaps a crisis of confidence. In the same way, by removing the burden of selecting content from the child and parent and allowing our algorithms to do the work, we prevent a child from doing exercises that are of inconsequential value due to being too easy, but also ensure they don’t lose their confidence being set something too hard.
If our mission is to significantly raise an individual child’s standards in maths, the single most important task is to establish each child’s ZPD. Set the work too easy and they won’t learn anything new. Set the work too hard, and they will be learning concepts that are not underpinned by the necessary pre-requisites, meaning there’s a danger of the child not fully understanding the concept and then forgetting it soon after. This is what underpins the Kumon method and what made it the most successful supplementary maths provider of the 20th century: children learned through practising maths, always at their threshold.
We know what happens when a child isn’t working at the right level. We’ve experienced it ourselves as either a teacher, a parent or from our own memories of school. That year spent in a maths group where a subject-enthusiast taught to the top of the class with great enthusiasm but left most behind. The wasted term that a child might experience if they are placed in the bottom group by accident. The more the work is tailored to the individual, the better they learn.
Finally, it’s worth noting that as maths branches out into different disciplines, children may have different thresholds for Algebra, Shape and Space, Number or Data Handling for example. It’s difficult for a teacher to keep track of these thresholds, let alone teach individual children at the right level for each. In this day and age of big data, though, technology can track what teachers can’t. Just take a look at ‘Gap Analysis’ on the parent or teacher dashboard to see how.