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Zone of Proximal Development


The Zone of Proximal Development (or Zoped) is possibly Vygotsky's most reknowned idea, although it may not be his most influential. This is due to Vygotsky's early death (see Bibliography) which has meant that he has not left us with any clearly-articulated and formally elaborated theory, but a body of ideas to be mined for their riches. At present we are still delving into these ideas.

Vygotsky believed that any pedagogy creates learning processes that lead to development and this sequence results in zones of proximal development. It's the concept that a child accomplishes a task that he/she cannot do alone, with the help from a more skilled person. Vygotsky also described the zoped as the difference between the actual development level as determined by individual problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or collaboration with more knowledgeable peers.

In other words the zoped occurs when someone is able to put himself or herself in someone else's position, and either complete an action for that person where they couldn't quite do it on their own, or, paradoxically, prevent the other from doing something that they can't yet stop themselves from doing. Now, the notion of the zoped is not often used as I have just introduced it. Rather, it is seen as a 'positive' zone, an interaction that sets up the situation so as baby can accomplish something that she can't yet do on her own.

The spot marked 'X' in this sequence of events is a piece of fluff, which this mother knows her 6 month old infant will grasp and stick in her mouth if she sees it. Mother can tell from the baby's posture and general movements at about image 5 that she has seen it, and she gets in first, picking it up (images 7-9) before baby's hand gets there. The desire that baby doesn't pick such things up and suck them exists socially, beyond baby. The ability not to act spontaneously has yet to reside with baby. This is 'negation in the zoped', and until the child can take over the mental abilities of her mother into her own conduct, her mother will continue to act for her.
Point at the picture to START the sequence.

The zone of proximal development has implications for assessment, especially concerning children with learning and behaviour problems. In the book, 'Scaffolding Children's Learning', Berk and Winsler discuss Vygotsky's dissatisfaction with the ability and achievement tests as valid measures of children's capacity to learn. Two children can differ substantially in the zoped that each requires. One child may do his/her best on their own, while the other needs some assistance. Therefore, the zoped is crucial for identifying each child's readiness to benefit from instruction.

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Page by Designed: Aug 2001
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