My understanding of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is that every person has two limits to their understandings of concepts. The bottom limit is all of the skills that he/she can apply independently to things around them, these are the concepts that the person has mastered and fully understands. The higher limit of understanding is the things that a person can accomplish when he/she is collaborating with others either in a group or with a teacher/mentor. The space between these two limits is the ZPD, and within this area is where students make the most meaningful and permanent progress. The ZPD for everyone is constantly changing as we acquire new skills and become more independent of others. The high end of the ZPD is a good predictor of where the person’s understanding will be in the future.
A good example of ZPD is how many schools teach subjects, when I first learned about many of the psychological theories related to education and child development, they first seem to be overwhelming and confusing. These theories are then covered and reviewed in classes the following years. As I learned more about these theories, I moved from an understanding that was very basic and shallow at the first introduction, to a deeper an more independent understanding of the topics. In other words I was able to apply these ideas to the things happening around me in field experiences and any other time that I spent around children.
With the ZPD, children’s learning isn’t based necessarily on grade-levels, but on finding out where the child stands, and working from there. The ZPD is more about helping the child improve within his/her capabilities rather than stretch them beyond any hope of understanding. Actually, the ZPD really illustrates that if a child is taught at too high of a level too quickly it will not help their learning at all, they will be unable to build on their prior knowledge because they haven’t built it up to a level high enough to even understand the concept with the aid of others. It is extremely important in this theory to try and keep the child as close to their highest level of possible functioning as possible so that they are always challenged, yet are not discouraged by not being able to comprehend a concept at all.
The Zone of Proximal Development is something that I can even see in some of my schoolwork, when parts of the class are focused on things I already have a good grasp of, I tend to feel as if I am wasting my time and sometimes “check out” of the class. It is important that teachers really take a vested interest into the actual level of their students’ development, rather than just teaching to grade-level. In many classrooms there is a wide range of skill and ability levels, and when the teacher knows these, he/she can better serve every student by providing extra support or slowing things down for those that may be a little behind their peers. Also making sure to introduce more challenging concepts for those children that have surpassed their classmates’ developmental level will keep them “checked in” to the class and interested in participating.