Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) By Vygotsky
Vygotsky defined zone of proximal development (ZPD) as the distance between the process whereby a student is taught how to solve a given problem through a more knowledgeable individual and the process where he/she can independently solve that particular problem. A teacher in this case can either be an adult or even a peer who is more capable than that particular student.
In this reflection paper I would like to refer the Vygotsky as a teacher and look at how he could have applied his theory in educating and instructing his students. In this theory, the theorist claimed that the cooperative learning method is only mode of learning that is used in any educational set up. He went ahead to suggest that more capable students learning easily through cooperative learning exercises by their teachers while less capable students benefit more from their peers who are more skillful. According to Vygotsky these prepositions are true provided the students in question fall within the zone of proximal development.
There are three main assumptions about the nature of learning that Vygotsky identified when coming up with his theory that were deemed very important to him as a teacher. These assumptions are reviewed in three distinctive aspects: generality assumption; assistance assumption; and potential assumption.
Generality assumption in the Zone of proximal development theory is that it can be applied in all aspects of learning. Vygotsky assumed that an individual can carry out limited number of tasks alone but when in a group can perform wide range of tasks. This assumption was adopted by the author to justify that collaborative learning process is the best. He made an assumption that theory of zone of proximal development could apply to all kind of learning tasks.
In his explanation to the general assumption, Vygotsky suggested that the concept of this theory is applicable to all kinds of learning. I would like to refute the relevance of this assumption in this concept because it would eliminate the essence of development. For instance, the term development ceases to be coincidental in this theory and should be replaced by the term learning. In my view if at all, Vygotsky wanted to use this assumption in his theory then he should have called it “zone of proximal learning” instead of “zone of proximal development.” Learning how to type is different from learning how to ride a bicycle. These learning experiences take different perspectives and cannot be assumed to be same.
Assistance assumption on nature of learning in this theory states that learning process can only take place between a person that is less competent and another that is more competent. In his theory, Vygotsky suggested that a learner should interact with either a teacher or a more skillful student in order to learn from them.
I tend to think that the assistance assumption was irrelevant in this theory because learning process does not necessarily depend on a teacher to be more competent than the student. For instance, a student can learn from other students who are of the same skills but deferent techniques not necessary more skillful. It is also common for teachers to learn from their students despite them being more skillful. Assistance assumption is irrelevant in the zone of proximal of development because provided a learner has the capability to learn he/she does not have to learn from only more skillful persons but even lesser skillful persons.
Potential assumption has come out very clearly in this theory. Vygotsky in his theory focused on the potential of the learner in solving a given problem. He suggested that the role of a teacher or a more competent person in the zone of proximal development theory is just to facilitate or accelerate the learning process in a potential student.
From my own perspective, I believe the potential assumption as used by Vygotsky in his theory is wrong. In an attempt to explain this assumption, Vygotsky used an example of a child participating in a race.
The nature of learners is a concept that has proven difficult to describe for most scholars who have existed. From a teacher’s point of view, nature of students can be categorized into either fast learners or slow learners. Fast learners are those students who are capable to grasp concepts taught to them by teachers easily and faster while the slow learners are the ones who have difficulty in understanding a given concept a lot practice is carried out. Vygotsky in his theory of zone of proximal development identified several psychological functions such as thinking, voluntary memory, perception and speech as a way of defining the nature of learners. These psychological functions are very important in describing the nature of a given learner because a fast learner will have capability to think, speak, memorize and even to perceive a given concept easily while a slow learner will exhibit low capabilities in the following attributes. The most important thing according to Vygotsky is the capability of a learner to exist within the zone of proximal development for a learning process to take place. The nature of students is of least importance to him.
The character of knowledge according to Vygotsky in his theory of zone of proximal development is imitation and collaboration. Learners gain knowledge through first of all imitating their teachers and then collaborating with them to gain deeper understanding. In a teaching context, it is easier to allow your students memorize after you before you collaborate with them at a later stage to help them understand more. Learning in lower level of education is purely through imitation but as the process advances, collaboration is adopted.
Learning environment should be designed in such as a way that it is favorable to the learner. In the theory of zone of proximal development for a student to learn from his/her teachers he/she should within the zone of proximal development. This means that learning process cannot take place when the student is not comfortable with the whole process. As a teacher, it is important to identify the capability of the student before embarking on the teaching process.
Teaching is a process that requires cooperation between the student and the teacher. Vygotsky in his theory has identified the collaboration between the students and more competent persons for learning take place. I believe a teacher is charged with the responsibility to pass knowledge to their students who are deemed to be less knowledgeable. However, it does not mean that in case the student has not gotten the concept then no teaching has taken place.
The concepts underlined in the theory of zone of proximal development can be used to solve some theoretical problems in my field of education. Disparity in learning process can be solved by allowing the teachers to identify their students and group them accordingly before embarking in teaching. Fast learners can be taught through collaboration while the slow learners can be taught through cooperation.