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Zone Of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development is characterized by the difference between the learner’s abilities without any assistance and what they can achieve with the guidance of a professional.

What Is The Zone Of Proximal Development?

The zone of proximal development is defined by the difference between the actual knowledge and the knowledge received from a professional. It involves the enhancement of the various range of abilities that the individual already possesses which cannot be achieved without the guidance or assistance of an adult or a professional. When an individual finds it difficult to master a subject on their own, it is essential for the student to receive guidance and encouragement from a professional to master the skill or subject.

The concept was created by psychologist Lev Vygotsky. This phenomenon can be defined as an individual’s requirement of guidance or assistance to master and enhance the abilities they already possess. According to Vygotsky 1 , “the zone of proximal development is the distance between the actual development levels determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” This zone involves a “more knowledgeable other” in which the “knowledgeable other” is someone who has a higher level of knowledge than the learner. The skills are referred to as “proximal” because the learner or student is close to mastering the task but needs assistance and practice in order to perform it independently.

Understanding The Zone Of Proximal Development

Vygotsky believed a student who is in the zone of proximal development for a particular skill or subject requires the appropriate assistance to give the student the “boost” to achieve the task. Another key aspect of developing the skills of the learner or student is known as scaffolding. Scaffolding involves the usage of different instruction methods to help the learner understand the task or the subject. It is used to enhance the skills of the learner in an effective manner. Scaffolding and the zone of proximal development are often used in preschool and classroom settings to help develop the abilities that children already have. However, these same principles cannot be applied outside of school settings. For instance, the concept of zone of proximal development cannot be used in cases where a parent is teaching a child how to ride a bike. This zone can only be achieved when the person learning the skill set can complete it without the assistance of the teacher or the peer.

A 2014 study 2 demonstrated that giving students the hardest tasks they can do with scaffolding allows the student to reach their true potential. Vygotsky argued that rather than examining what a student knows to determine their intelligence, it is better to examine their ability to solve problems independently and the ability to solve problems with adult supervision.

Read More About Child Development Here

Stages Of Zone Of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development is divided into four stages. They are:

Stage 1: Aided and assisted by a more knowledgeable person
Stage 2: Assistance provided by oneself
Stage 3: Automatization of knowledge with practice
Stage 4: Deautomization of the previous stages. (When the learner masters the subject)

The third stage involves tasks that are extremely difficult to perform without guidance. For instance, a young child learning maths requires professional assistance to learn how to solve mathematical problems. This level is above their skill level and outside their zone of proximal development.

In the final stage, the learner becomes able to perform the tasks without any professional assistance and can impart the knowledge acquired to a less knowledgeable person.

Essential Factors For Mastering The Learning Process

There are a few essential factors that are important to master the learning process:

  • The presence of someone with the knowledge and skills to guide the learner.
  • Scaffolding or supportive activities provided by the teacher that help guide the learner through the zone of proximal development.
  • Social interactions that allow the learner to observe and practice their skills.

Read More About Learning Theory Here

Involvement Of Scaffolding In The Zone Of Proximal Development

Scaffolding is defined as the way an adult guides a child’s learning with focused questions and positive interactions. It is important to provide the appropriate assistance and tools when children are in the zone of proximal development. This will allow the students to accomplish the new task or skill. These activities, instructions, tools, and resources are known as scaffolding. With time, scaffolding is removed when the student is able to perform the task independently. This concept was not initially introduced by Vygotsky. A 2019 study 3 demonstrated this aspect was examined by other researchers who have expanded upon the original theories of Vygotsky.

Teachers can use scaffolding by using techniques such as:

  • Modeling
  • Providing examples
  • Working one on one with students
  • Using visual aids

Scaffolding provides a good learning environment for the students where they can ask questions and receive feedback. The benefits that the students usually get are:

  • It motivates students
  • Minimizes frustration of students
  • It allows the learner to learn quickly
  • Provides personalized teaching experience
  • Allows efficiency in learning

Scaffolding can be conducted even by a peer in case they have mastered the subject.

Involvement Of Social Interaction In The Zone Of Proximal Development

The “more knowledgeable other” is often a parent, teacher, or another adult but it may not always be the case. In many circumstances, peers also provide valuable assistance and instruction. A 2014 study 4 pointed out that a child may look to peers more than they seek assistance from adults at some point in their lives. For instance, during the teen years, a child always looks to their peers for support rather than their parents or teacher. They often look to peers where they require help with how to act in a particular situation or what to wear.

Psychologist Vygotsky believed that peer interaction was an important part of the learning process. He pointed out that in order for children to learn new skills they needed to pair with more competent peers with less skilled ones.

Application Of The Zone Of Proximal Development In The Classroom

The zone of proximal development is a target that a learner must achieve in order to succeed in the subject or task. As and when the learner gains the skills and abilities, the zone progresses forward. Teachers and parents can take advantage of this by continually providing educational opportunities that will ultimately help them develop their knowledge and skills.

Children who cannot do the task easily on their own should be provided with what they need to accomplish it. This will allow them to advance the learning process. For instance, a professor in an experimental psychology course might scaffold the students by coaching them step by step through the experiments. Next, the professor might slowly remove the scaffolding techniques by only providing guidelines or briefs descriptions of how to proceed. In the final stage, students would be expected to develop and carry out their experiments independently.

Even though scaffolding can benefit students, there may also be certain challenges in the classroom setting. It is important for the teacher to understand the student’s zone of proximal development in order to ascertain the appropriate level of scaffolding. The potential challenges of scaffolding are as follows:

  • It can be time-consuming
  • Not enough instructors or experienced professionals for each student
  • Instructors need to be completely trained to get the full benefit
  • It is easy to misjudge a student’s zone of proximal development
  • Teachers also need to pay attention to the individual’s speed of understanding the subject or the task

A study 5 demonstrated that students’ task efforts affect their achievement. “Task effort” refers to the students’ effort, attention, and persistence in the classroom. Task effort and the quality of the teacher’s effort are essential elements in accomplishing the zone of proximal development.

The Efficiency Of The Zone Of Proximal Development

The efficiency of the zone and scaffolding can be beneficial for students to develop their skills and abilities. This phenomenon is an essential aspect of the fields of education and psychology. The primary goal of the teacher is to aid learning with certain techniques, like prompting, modeling, or giving clues. By understanding this concept, it is possible for instructors and teachers to use it efficiently for developing the skills and abilities of the students.

  1. Gebhard, S. (n.d.). Vygotsky and the zone of proximal development. Encyclopedia of Information Technology Curriculum Integration, 948-950. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-59904-881-9.ch148 []
  2. Wass, R., & Golding, C. (2014). Sharpening a tool for teaching: The zone of proximal development. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(6), 671-684. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2014.901958 []
  3. Shvarts, A., & Bakker, A. (2019). The early history of the scaffolding metaphor: Bernstein, Luria, Vygotsky, and before. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 26(1), 4-23. https://doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2019.1574306 []
  4. Petosa, R. L., & Smith, L. H. (2014). Peer mentoring for health behavior change: A systematic review. American Journal of Health Education45(6), 351-357. https://doi.org/10.1080/19325037.2014.945670 []
  5. van de Pol, J., Volman, M., Oort, F. et al. The effects of scaffolding in the classroom: support contingency and student independent working time in relation to student achievement, task effort and appreciation of support. Instr Sci 43, 615–641 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-015-9351-z []