Lev Vygotsky (1896 -1934) was a pioneer psychologist who lived in Moscow. I have great respect for his studies and found his Mind And Society an absorbing read. One of the precious ideas he brought to us is what he called the Zone Of Proximal Development. I was reminded of this recently when reading Laurie Bartel’s post, Lev Vygotsky & ZPD, where she called for elaboration or clarification of ZPD.
Vygotsky had an interest in scaffolding, particularly in relation to learner development in vocabulary and language. He was fascinated with ways of determining the state of development in the young learner. He drew the distinction between what he referred to as ‘age level of development’ and the ‘developmental process’ in relation to ‘learning capabilities’.
Vygotsky’s studies in this field suggest he firmly believed there was more to potential development in the learner than just what could be judged by observing what he called the learner’s actual development level. This is what can be determined presumably through analysis over a range of tests and other related observational parameters.
His argument was that what the young learner can do with the assistance of others is a better indicator of mental development than what she can do alone. He made the unambiguous distinction between the assessable accomplishment of the learner when unaided and the observable performance of the learner when given assistance. His pithy summary is
The zone of proximal development defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state.Much of Vygotsky’s ideas were tempered by existing theory of the time and furthered by his insightful hypotheses based on his own observations. R G Tharp and R Gallimore proposed an expansion of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development that involved further stages including the assistance that could be provided by the learner herself.
While Vygotsky spoke of developmental stages in the learner, he also posited that development is too complex to be defined by stages that disperse and become diffuse as the learner develops. As a result of this diffusion, previously identifiable stages can no longer be recognised in the learner.
Rather than ‘development’ laying down a series of identifiable zones, as shown above, learning is more a broad frontier that advances progressively. The zone of proximal development at the periphery of the actual development level has a depth according to the level of potential development.
“What is in the zone of proximal development today will be the actual developmental level tomorrow”.