Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wells, G. (1999). The zone of proximal development and its implications for learning and teaching

Wells, G. (1999). The zone of proximal development and its implications for learning and teaching. In Dialogic inquiry: Towards a sociocultural practice and theory of education (pp.313-334). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky’s definition of the zone of proximal development (ZPD): "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potentia1 development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (1978, p. 86). In other words, operationally, it is the zone defined by the difference between a child's test performances under two conditions: with or without assistance.

In this context, the significance of the zpd is that it determines the lower and upper bounds of the zone within which instruction should be pitched. "Instruction is only useful when it moves ahead of development" (p. 212), "leading the child to carry out activities that force him to rise above himself" (p. 213).

Some of the earliest attempts to apply Vygotsky's concept of ZPD occurred in the context of testing. Picking up his concern with appropriate assessment, attempts were made to use the concept of the zpd in the administration of tests under two conditions: without and with assistance.

"good learning": learning that is advance of a child’s development.

The zone of proximal development is created in the interaction between the student and the coparticipants in the activity, including the available tools and the selected practices, and depends on the nature and quality of that interaction as much as on the upper limit of the learner's capability.

Vygotsky’s fundamental insight was “higher psychological processes unique to humans can be acquired only through interactions with others”

There are other sources from which learners call receive assistance in the zpd including others who are not physically present in the situation.

At every stage, the learner is necessarily a participant in, and therefore a part of, the community whose practices he or she is learning (Rogoff, 1990).

The concept of ZPD can be applied to both individuals and groups.

More capable peers: it is not necessary for there to be a group member who is in all respects more capable than the others

This is partly because most activities involve a variety of component tasks such that students who are expert in one task, and therefore able to offer assistance to their peers, may themselves need assistance on another task.

[Effective] teaching involves much more than appropriately selecting and delivering a standardized curriculum and assessing the extent to which it has been correctly received

To be truly effective, teaching involves the ongoing co-constructing of each student’s ZPD

For the most part, teacher development has meant teacher training. Only recently has this begun to give way to a more agentive view of development: teachers learning in their ZPDs, constructing their own understanding of the art of teaching through reflective practice, and seeking assistance and guidance from a range of sources.

Expanded view of ZPD:
1. rather than being a fixed attribute of the learner, the zpd is dynamically created and emerges in the activity
2. the ZPD potentially applies to all participants in a learning community
3. the sources of assistance and guidance are not limited to human participants who are physically present

Major effects
1. Role of teacher: instead of the primary dispenser of knowledge, the teacher is seen as a fellow learner whose prime responsibility it to act as a leader of a community committed to the co-construction of knowledge

The ZPD may apply to any situation
To teach in the ZPD is to be responsive to a learner’s current goals
Learning in the ZPD involves all aspects of the learner and leads to the development of identity as well as of skills and knowledge

If Vygotsky’s theory is to provide the guidance that many believe it should, we should treat his ideas as a source of assistance in our zones of proximal development

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