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The Learning Sweet Spot

The Learning Sweet Spot

A "learning sweet spot" refers to the optimal zone where learners are sufficiently challenged to stay engaged and motivated, but not so overwhelmed that they become frustrated or discouraged. This concept is rooted in educational psychology and cognitive science and can be described through various frameworks:

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
Flow Theory
Desirable Difficulties

While 'screening' is used to ascertain starting points in order to guide instruction, many factors can obscure a clear picture of existing knowledge and learning capacity. Even when we identify a child's starting point in mastering phonemic awareness, understanding how they learn is crucial for designing their learning journey. During our Screen and Intervene (SAI) process for phonemic awareness, we also teach the child something new to observe how quickly they learn it. Screening cannot be solely about what they know; it must also explore how they learn. At all times, we aim to identify each child's Sweet Spot, both during screening and subsequent intervention or acceleration phases.


Ortho-Graphix is a mindset, with educators utilising the 'speech sound mapping' learning system designed to provide a direct and correct route to understanding and forming words, aligning with the educational focus on phonemic and orthographic instruction.

Speech Sound Mapping is the way we explore new words! Phonemies simplify the process by making the connections between phonemes and letters visible, thereby facilitating orthographic knowledge.

The reason for focusing on phonemic awareness is that children who start school with this skill are far less likely to struggle with developing orthographic knowledge as they learn to read and spell, regardless of teacher skill or beliefs, or school programs. Consequently, children with good phonemic awareness can reach the stage of 'orthographic mapping' (reading words at an incredibly fast speed, without conscious effort) regardless of the instruction. Phonemic awareness allows this to happen. In England, children are taught using synthetic phonics programs, which is the mandatory approach for state-maintained schools. However, children cannot learn phonics without phonemic awareness and the programs vary with regard to how much phonemic awareness is the focus, or how taught. Testing their phonics skills is like testing a child's running times without first checking if they have stones in their shoes. The speed may not indicate what is hindering them from running as fast as they can and does not focus on the bigger picture. Running coaches may not be aware of the stones. Our screening checks everything, because Emma Hartnell-Baker takes a 'big picture' approach, which centres around each individual and their needs.
She also trains others to do this!  Ask about teacher training.




Emma Hartnell-Baker is an expert at finding a child's 'Sweet Spot' and designs technology to apply these principles in a model that replicates the process as closely as possible. While AI can only be as effective as the programmer and can't replace human thinking, technology is vital for scaling the 'Screen and Intervene' process on a national level. However, we need a network of specialists who can monitor the technology and support its development as a team of 'Sweet Spot' experts, led by Emma Hartnell-Baker.

Understanding the Sweet Spot is CRUCIAL to our success, preventing reading difficulties.

Also for overcoming difficulties learning to read and spell.
The 4 week SAI program for children with an EHC plan can be seen here

To explain the value of Emma Hartnell-Baker's skill and experience, consider this well-known story:

A giant ship's engine broke down, and no one could repair it, so they hired a Mechanical Engineer with over 30 years of experience. He inspected the engine very carefully, from top to bottom. After seeing everything, the engineer unloaded his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He knocked something gently, and soon, the engine came to life again. The engine had been fixed! A week later, the engineer mentioned to the ship owner that the total cost of repairing the giant ship was £20,000.

"What?!" said the owner. "You did almost nothing. Give us a detailed bill."

The answer is simple:

Tap with a hammer: £2
Knowing where to knock and how much to knock: £19,998


This story highlights the importance of appreciating one's expertise and experience because those are the results of struggles, experiments, and even tears. 

The cost of SAI to schools is well worth the investment. Many children she is engaged to support have already been in the system for years, with thousands spent trying to get them reading, often to no avail. Emma Hartnell-Baker will find their starting points and design their learning journey. This is an even better investment when screening is done at age three.

Follow the Sounds, Say the Word!

A "learning sweet spot" refers to the optimal zone where learners are sufficiently challenged to stay engaged and motivated, but not so overwhelmed that they become frustrated or discouraged. This concept is rooted in educational psychology and cognitive science and can be described through various frameworks:

  1. Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): Introduced by psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the ZPD describes the difference between what a learner can do independently and what they can achieve with guidance and support. The learning sweet spot is within this zone, where tasks are neither too easy nor too difficult, allowing for maximum growth and development with the right amount of challenge and support.

  2. Flow Theory: Proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow occurs when individuals are fully immersed and engaged in an activity, experiencing enjoyment and focus. The learning sweet spot aligns with the state of flow, where the difficulty of the task matches the learner's skill level, promoting sustained engagement and optimal performance.

  3. Desirable Difficulties: A concept by cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork, desirable difficulties are challenges that enhance learning and retention. Tasks that are slightly beyond a learner's current abilities but still achievable with effort fall into the learning sweet spot, leading to deeper and more effective learning.

In practical terms, finding the learning sweet spot involves:

  • Assessment and Differentiation: Evaluating each learner's current skills and knowledge to tailor challenges that are appropriate for their level.

  • Incremental Challenges: Gradually increasing the complexity of tasks to push learners just beyond their comfort zones.

  • Support and Feedback: Providing guidance, resources, and feedback to help learners navigate challenges and improve their skills.

By identifying and leveraging the learning sweet spot, educators and learners can enhance engagement, motivation, and the overall effectiveness of the learning process.

The Different Framework from The Reading Hut - Phonemies - Phonemic Awareness Mastery
The Different Reading Framework
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