Zone of proximal development

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 practices, mastered or is able to perform the task on their own.

This concept was developed by a Russian psychologist Vygotsky who emphasised on 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.  

Scaffolding techniques

Modelling – 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 one would increase their knowledge, skill and ability to perform better. 

Visual aids – graphic organisers aid the students 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 helps an individual learn new skills within their capacity. The main aim is to teach the student certain skills, technique and clues that can brush up their skills. As soon as the student masters a skill, support from the knowledgeable individual must be reduced.


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