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Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD is a term used by Lev Vygotsky (1978) to
describe situations in which students’ cognitive ability matches the cognitive
requirements demanded by an instructional activity. These are skills or tasks
performed by the learner with help from others or mediated scaffolding. Scaffolding is
a means by which students receive support in various forms along the path to full
understanding and doing the rest successfully. (Coyne, Kame’enui, and Carnine, 2007,
pp. 155-156)

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From basic education, higher education, and the workplace, ZPD was used by the
teachers and trainers. When I was learning to play the piano, the teacher was there to
explain and demonstrate what I have to do until I can be left to play on my own. They
called the final activity, similar to a graduation, as piano recital. I had more ZPDs in
math, technical-vocational and language subjects or courses, and swimming. The
adult, trainer, teacher, or mentor was very important in providing the instructions,
demonstrations, and feedbacks until I got the correct answers or the right skills.
Constant practice or repetitions of exercises were given to be able to achieve the
desired skills. Aside from schoolteachers and trainers, family members and even
friends became my mentors.
Statistics or Financial Accounting was very difficult for me to learn independently. The
formulas and the procedure to get the final answers were so complex and numerous.
Even if the formulas were given, the task to solve the problem was so overwhelming. It
was difficult to determine which data should be manipulated first. Only a specialist can
truly explain the mystery behind it. I remember when I had a long assignment in
Financial Accounting, I still asked the public accountant to show me the steps or
sequence to obtain the final answers. Eventually, I was able to understand the
procedure and did the computations faster.

The workplace was even more critical. The first time I worked in a laboratory, a senior
staff was assigned to me to teach the ropes because some of the procedures required
chemical testing and analysis. The senior staff worked with me closely for a few
months until I was left to do everything on my own.

It is also interesting to note that Vygotsky is often associated with social

constructivism. There is emphasis on influences of cultural and social contexts in
learning and supports a discovery model of learning. Social constructivism extends
constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one
another. Another term is collaboration. Learning by culture is quite traditional and
extends as far back into history before schools became formal. According to one
Jewish rabbi, men at the time of Jesus Christ would be born in a village, live and learn
in that village, and even die in the same village. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton (former
first lady of USA) chose the ancient African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,”
as the title for her book published in 1996. According to her, it offered a timeless
reminder that children will thrive only if their families thrive and if the whole of society
cares enough to provide for them. In our own culture, the “village” meant an actual
geographic place where individuals and families lived and worked together. In a village,
the children would learn from the adults through ZPD.

In contrast to Behaviorism and Objectivism, language is also considered as a tool for

cognitive development in Constructivism. Noam Chomsky, a Linguistics professor in
MIT and a critic of Skinner and Behaviorism, explains that young children have a richer
capacity to develop and to acquire many languages simultaneously than adults.
Language as part of one culture facilitates learning from the elders to the young
members, a ZPD, until the latter obtain the required knowledge and skills to function
independently. For example, in the different Philippine regions, people also have
different ways in celebrating harvests, in preparing food, and in obtaining livelihood.
People who grew up in one region would surely know the events, specialties, products,
and even the different processes of how their products were made. In most cases,
people in the provinces would learn from the adult members of the community and not
necessarily in a formal school set-up.

The importance of designing educational strategies scaffolded to match students’ zone

of proximal development is critical to ensuring that students benefit from instruction
and that the instructional experiences enhance the students’ self-esteem. (Coyne,
Kame’enui, and Carnine, 2007, pp. 155-156) Knowledge of the child’s culture and
learning styles helps teachers examine their own instructional practices and become
sensitive to provide diverse learning experiences. Improved instructional
methodologies and practices for certain students will result in improved instruction for
all. Hence, the goal for equity will be achieved - true equal opportunity for all learners.
(Guild, Pat Burke. Diversity, Learning Style, and Culture)
Attention to diversity does not mean “anything goes.” Honoring diversity does not
imply a lack of clear beliefs and strong values. The challenge is to identify what should
be the same in schools and what should be different. Appropriate uniform standards
are needed but not standardization. (Guild, Pat Burke. Diversity, Learning Style, and

An important guideline is to align the amount of structure and support with the needs
of the learner. Another recommendation is to scaffold instruction through prompts and
supports that can be easily and authentically embedded in instructional materials.
Finally, it is important to withdraw scaffolds gradually once learners demonstrate
mastery of a skill or strategy so that they do not become overly dependent on a prop.
(Coyne, Kame’enui, and Carnine, 2007, pp. 58-60)

The book, Effective Teaching Strategies That Accommodate Diverse Learners, by

Michael D. Coyne, Edward J. Kame'enui, and Douglas W. Carnine (2007) includes
designing mediated scaffolding (ZPD) for beginning reading, reading comprehension,
teaching writing, teaching mathematics, teaching science, and teaching social studies
for the traditional K-8 classroom.


2006 (3rd Edition)

2010 (4th Edition, New)


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