Traffic Lights for the Zone


“If a teacher attempts to teach knowledge, understanding, and skills as though everyone in the class were at the same point of readiness — that is, in the same zone of proximal development — it is likely that some students will be in the “learning zone” while others are coasting and still others are confused and frustrated.”

— from Differentiation and The Brain by David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson

I just read this in Sousa and Tomlinson’s book this evening and, for me, it reinforced why I use the Learning Skills Tracking Sheet (“Green Sheets“) in conjunction with the Traffic Light system.

Just to summarize, Dr. Jamie Pyper took the idea of the Exit Card and essentially formalized it so that it is a part of everyday classroom practice. That is to say, the teacher and students interact with the Green Sheets on a daily basis but the job or function of the Tracking Sheets changes depending on the day, the teacher’s goal that day, or how the student wants to use the sheet. For example, a teacher may want to focus on one particular Learning Skill one day, but may not see fit to focus on that Learning Skill the next day.

For me, no matter whether I focus on a Learning Skill on a given day, I invite students to communicate with me at anytime on any subject matter through their personal Green Sheet, and I use the Green Sheet as an Exit Card and even an ‘Entry Card’ almost every day.

But the Green Sheet can also be used to address what Sousa and Tomlinson mention in the quotation above, that a teacher cannot hope to reach most or all of the students at any given time without checking their understanding from time to time. Because the students write on their Green Sheets everyday throughout each day’s class and I then read them everyday, there now exists a ideal mode of communication for students to indicate what their level of readiness is, again, at any given moment. And this is where the Traffic Light system comes into play: for example, once I have taught a concept I know to be complicated, I can ask students to pause to write on their Green Sheet what Traffic Light they are feeling at that moment. If students feel confident about

their learning, then they write the word “Green” on the sheet; if they have some understanding but also need some clarification, then the student is invited to write “Yellow”; and if a student is lost, confused, frustrated, etc. they can write “Red”. I can either then choose to read the feedback after class, or I have taken a minute or two (and that is all it takes in reality) to walk around the room and to read what they have indicated while keeping score of the yellows and reds on my fingers.

This feedback then gives me an instant and clear indication of what I need to do next: if there are enough yellows and reds, then I need to repeat, re-teach, re-present, the material. If there are only a few yellows and reds, then I can address those students individually.

I like Traffic Light because it is easy for the students to understand, it is simple and quick, and the Green Sheets provide a perfect way for students to communicate with me that is direct yet discrete while being ongoing and therefore ‘trackable’.

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One response to “Traffic Lights for the Zone

  1. Pingback: Focus on: Traffic Light | mistercooke's teaching blog

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