Zone of proximal development
Zone of proximal development or ZPD is a concept that deals with the learning ability of a human. The core idea suggests that a knowledgeable person’s guidance can make a student learn more than their ability level. An individual can only acquire new skills or knowledge through guidance from a learned person. This guidance is required until the individual has practiced, mastered or is able to perform the task on their own.
This concept was developed by a Russian psychologist Vygotsky who emphasised the role of a teacher or an instructor in a student’s learning process. Scaffolding and ZPD go hand in hand when it comes to skill development. Scaffolding, in this case, is termed as pairing an instructor with a student. The person performing the scaffolding can be a peer, teacher, parent or a mentor or someone who can guide them through a new skill.
Vygotsky divided the skill development or the learning process in 3 stages:
The level of skills a student can achieve themselves – this includes everything that a learner can do without assistance, for instance, tell the difference between a normal car and a construction-related vehicle.
The level of skills a student can achieve under the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor – this is the ZPD, for instance, operating an excavator on a construction site.
The level of skills a student cannot achieve even in presence of a knowledgeable instructor – These include tasks that are too difficult to perform or to comprehend for certain students. For instance, expecting a construction worker to understand the scope of the project which is outside or beyond their Zone of proximal development.
Different Scaffolding techniques are used in the classroom to help students reach their maximum potential. The instructor assigned to the student retreats slowly as the students’ skills start improving. Scaffolding aids students with developing mathematical skills, science and language.
Modeling – this technique requires the instructor to give students the grading rubric which helps them in developing a correct flow of the information required in their answers. It acts as a product before they start experimenting.
Giving Examples – it’s a known fact that the students learn more when they see something rather than hearing about it. While teaching students, use real life examples to help them ponder more on the outcome of what they can possibly make.
One-to-one guidance – paying attention to slow learners can help them understand better and make them motivated to learn even more. Not all students have the same level of skills, helping out the weaker ones would increase their knowledge, skill and ability to perform better.
Visual aids – graphic organisers aid the student's ability to channel their thoughts, organise information, grasp concepts and present ideas. Visual aid is most effective when teaching sequence and cause & effect.
Challenges of Scaffolding and ZPD
The understanding capacity of all the students may vary. To successfully implement scaffolding in a classroom setting, the instructor needs to know the ZPD of each student. Scaffolding works best if the students are working under their ZPD. If the concepts or skills are above their ZPD, they will not benefit from the scaffolding techniques. Applying Scaffolding can be very time-consuming, require more than one instructor for a group of students, instructors must be well trained, may require catering to individual needs and it’s difficult to judge the student’s ZPD.
In conclusion, Scaffolding really helps in exploring the optimum level of ZPD of the student. Both scaffolding and ZPD help an individual learn new skills within their capacity. The main aim is to teach the student certain skills, techniques and clues that can brush up their skills. As soon as the student masters a skill, support from the knowledgeable individual must be reduced.
How Vygotsky Impacts Learning
Scaffolding and the concept of Cognitive Development by Piaget complement each other in various ways. Here are a few examples:
- The teacher and students share a learning-centred relationship
- Society and culture have an impact on shaping a learners attitude towards education
- Language is a basic developmental tool that encourages social interactions and has sociocultural influences.
It all sums down to restructuring the Lesson Plan that should have social interaction within the curriculum, i.e tasks designed by learners for the class. Another way is to ‘build concepts on guided instructions’. The instructions can act as a scaffolding for learners to jump on for the next task/instruction. Also, this way tutors can help learners improve their problem-solving skills. Lastly, with some help from the tutor, ‘assessment that brings out learners’ performance potential’.
Scaffolding acts as a cycle that helps instructors to help their students improve on each stage. The teacher decides and sets the level of difficulty of each task according to the potential of the learner. It helps the instructor identify the tasks learners can perform independently. On the other hand, it clearly demonstrates the level of achievement that could be accomplished with the help of the instructor. It is important for teachers to identify that each learner may be at different zones and levels of potential and each learner must be treated individually when they are left to work on their own.
Every learner requires space and opportunity for the trainer to note the zone they belong to. Depending on the zone the learner is on, it is important that the trainer allows them to learn independently. The trainer must give them guidance (demonstration and facilitation). Once the learner reaches the proximal development goal, the trainer must draw their contribution to let learner independently reach their level of potential learning. The complexity of the tasks intensifies when the learner reaches their level of cognitive development. It is believed that the complexity of the task should increase gradually towards the optimal level so that the learners remained focused and motivated. Scaffolding is an ideal tool to help learners achieve their potential learning goals.
Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is mostly focused on social interactions. Learners interact with each other and with the instructor on a daily basis. However, too much interaction amongst learners can also stagnant the growth. It is important to remember that the instructor is the most learned person in the classroom. Interacting more with the instructor can help students benefit from their knowledge.
Originally published on Jan 01 2020, updated on May 15 2021