Well, if it isn’t Mr. Vygotsky again. It seems his theories of practice are well believed by the Education Department at IU. I actually had heard of Vygotsky in my high school Psychology class, but we only briefly touched on the topic of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The Zone of Proximal Development is a range of understanding someone has about a topic. At one end, it is not knowing, and the other is knowing completely. What is in between is where someone who knows the topic, helps the other reach a full understanding. I think this occurs in most classrooms, whether teachers realize it or not, because teachers are constantly introducing new topics, leading students through discussions and activities on the topic, and then hopefully the students will have an overall understanding of the topic, that they had previously not understood. The teacher helps scaffold the students’ information, to create and develop their schemas about a particular subject.
Looking back on my experience with the Zone of Proximal Development, I believe it was occurring all the time, in school and outside of the classroom. I have the knowledge I do now, because it was passed along to me, from superiors, or peers who knew about a topic that I did not know previously. I think it is extremely beneficial to have someone assist you with topics rather than learning on your own, otherwise, why would we really need schools?
I believe you can always build on your knowledge of a subject. Even people who claim they are an expert on a topic, there might be bits and pieces for them to learn, that they do not already know. I think a topic for me that I am continually scaffolding on is my knowledge of computers. I’d like to think I am pretty computer savvy, but I am constantly learning new programs, new websites, and new ways of doing things. I believe many things in our lives are up for improving, which makes the Zone of Proximal Development a continual process, stretching the “knowing end” further and further away, to help build your schemas.
I think as educators, we need to think about the ZPD as not only applying to our students, but to ourselves as well, because we will constantly be building our beliefs and understandings about our students, how best to teach, what works best, etc, continually.