The concept of the zone of the proximal development was introduced by L. Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist. This concept is used in reference to the learning process and describes what a person can do by themselves, without the assistance of the teacher (Mc.Leod, N.D.). It is thought to be very important for successful and speedy learning, as it increases the person’s confidence, motivation and the ability and desire to learn on their own.
The concept of scaffolding was added to the theory later and it refers to the teacher’s assistance, which allows the person to operate within the zone of the proximate development by first offering and then slowly removing the points of assistance (Urbano, N.D.). The concept was introduced by Bruner, Wood and Ross. The concept presupposes beginning the learning process at the level at which the person is already able to operate, slowly increasing the difficulty of the tasks offered.
An example of how these concepts were applied in my own experience can be my assisting a friend with improving his English. At the beginning my friend could speak English at the elementary level, able to introduce himself and to hold simplest conversations, so this was his zone of the proximate development. I started teaching him by giving him constructions or models which he could follow. First of all, I asked him to construct new sentences resembling the given models, so that he had to change only few words but keep the structure. Then I built with him dialogues using these sentences so that he could apply his knowledge to practice. Every new lesson I added new constructions my friend could follow and made him use the ones he had learned during previous lessons in a wider context. The same way I helped him to acquire new vocabulary. First he just repeated fixed sentences. I made sure he understood what each word meant. Then I made him translate completely different sentences, using the words he had already acquired in my examples. Several months later my friend improved his English significantly and was able to communicate with more ease.
- McLeod, S. (2010), “zone of proximal development”, retrieved from: Simply Psychology, http://www.simplypsychology.org
- Urbano, L., (2011) “scaffolding and peer-learning: thinking about Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development”, retrieved from Montessori Muddle, http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .