Why the ‘just-right’ level matters, in sport and study

The Kumon Method of Learning has many components working together to develop the potential of each individual child. But of all these features, which is the most important?

According to Kumon’s late founder, Toru Kumon, it is the ‘just-right’ level of study.

“The ‘just-right’ level of study is the most important element of education, because each and every child should be given learning materials that match his or her ability. The reason children come to dislike studying is because they are not given what is at the ‘just-right’ level for their academic ability. When they are given what is ‘just-right’ for them, they enjoy studying. They will then be able to advance beyond their school grade level”, Mr. Kumon wrote in 1995.

But what does the jargon, ‘just-right’ level, really mean? It refers to the sweet spot in difficulty that motivates a student to do his or her best; not too easy, otherwise students get bored, but not too hard as well. In sports, players are assigned the right position for them based on their skills and abilities. If the incorrect position is assigned, even the most talented player will underperform, at best.

One example of this can be seen in soccer. While playing for Juventus Football Club, striker Thierry Henry was assigned to play as a left winger and was expected to both organise the attack and to defend. He was overburdened and his role didn’t best suit his ability. He thus played badly and his career was severely damaged. Most of all, he was not happy.

“I wasn’t enjoying myself at all, I felt like I’d lost the desire to play football”, Henry later admitted.

Henry left Juventus after just one season to join Arsenal Football Club. It was in Arsenal where Henry was assigned the ‘just-right’ position and level of work as he was deployed as the reserve striker, where he flourished on the field. Henry later became Arsenal’s first-choice striker and would eventually be the all-time top scorer for both Arsenal and the French national team.

What’s clear now is that Henry wasn’t assigned the ‘just-right’ level at Juventus, but was at Arsenal. When he played at a pace just right for him, he excelled and enjoyed it.

“When I scored, in that moment, I rediscovered some emotions, some feelings that I had not felt in a long time,” he said.

Similar to a soccer coaches assigning the right role for each player, Kumon Instructors find the ‘just-right’ level of learning for each student. Since different children have different levels of abilities, it’s logical that the study assigned to them should be different too.

Correctly matching materials to students’ ability is integral to the Kumon Method. When students study at their ‘just-right’ level, they will begin to enjoy studying.

This is the first step towards developing their self-learning ability. As their self-learning ability matures and enjoyment of learning grows, students will be able to progress beyond their school grade.

To this day, the Kumon Method continues to use worksheets matched to each student’s ability, at the ‘just-right’ level. Kumon students largely work out solutions on their own using hints, examples and, if necessary, guidance from the Instructors.

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