My cooperating teacher brought up the concept of “level of concern” this week as something for me to consider when lesson planning. It is a concept that was emphasized greatly when she was a beginning teacher, and she still thinks about it all of the time while teaching. The way she explained it to me is that whenever you raise the level of concern for a student, meaning introducing them to something a little outside of their zone of proximal development, you need to balance it with lowering the student’s level of concern, i.e. reminding them of a skill they already know or background knowledge they already have which will help them reach the new learning goal. I also found this explanation of it on the Educator’s Virtual Mentor website:
Level of Concern is one principle of learning that can affect students’ motivation or intent to learn. This is sometimes referred to as level of anxiety or level of tension. Whatever term is used, it refers to how much students care about what they learn.
From further reading, I am also interpreting it as giving students cause to be concerned about not knowing something or not being able to solve a problem in order to motivate their desire to learn. In other words, in addition to quelling any anxieties the student may have about their own learning capabilities, we need to find a way to make the student care enough about the subject or skills we present that they will push themselves outside of their comfort zone.
There is also our, the teacher’s, levels of concern that we need to be conscious of keeping balanced as discussed in Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness. “When things seem to be going well in your class, what are you motivated to change? Nothing! . . . Should your concern become too high, however, your concern may be diverted from instructional growth to dealing with your concern for self maintenance . . .A moderate level of concern stimulates efforts to learn” (2004, Hunter, p. 15). Hunter discusses the concept extensively for students as well.
Add her book to your summer reading list, since I am guessing your level of concern may be too high for extra reading right now!