As I was driving to work today, I had a thought. Teaching is a bit like the act of torture, the principle is exactly the same.

When you torture someone you inflict a level of pain to effect a confession or extract information. In both cases the level of pain needs to be just enough, but not too much. Too little and the victim will be able to suffer the discomfort, too much and the victim will either lapse into unconsciousness or expire – both of little use to the torturer.

When we teach, both the appreciation of the student’s readiness to learn and the design of the lesson have the quality of enough but not too much. The students level of readiness and the appropriate teaching strategy needs to be explored, much as the wiggling finger of pressure on a pressure point seeks first to discover just the right place and then to judge the right level of pressure to bring about the squirming of the victim without causing a complete faint.

With ill-judged application of our teaching methods or incorrect analysis of our students’ readiness to learn (another way of describing the Zone of Proximal Development) we will either fail to interest students due to pitching our instruction too low or cause our students to disengage by overwhelming them with expectations of their learning that are far too high.

Teaching is hard and needs to be precise. Much like the torturer we need to study our methods and try some new ways. Just make sure that not too many of your victims expire before you get some learning happening.