Tap to Read ➤

What is the Zone of Proximal Development?

Loveleena Rajeev Oct 27, 2018
The zone of proximal development was a concept developed as an argument against the use of standardized tests to gauge the intelligence level of a student. Let's explain this in detail.
The concept behind zone of proximal development theory as developed and initiated for understanding the level of children's intelligence level by the Soviet psychologist and the founder of cultural-historical psychology, Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, is based on the premise, which is put forth in his own words as follows.
It says, "develop deliberate control over everyday concepts through contact with scientific concepts."  By this, he meant that more emphasis needs to be laid on comparing a student's ability to independently solve problems, as against their ability to solve problems with assistance.
He believed that interaction with peers was an important part of the learning process. It has been a great contribution to the field of education and is used in developing age-appropriate techniques and curriculum for children.

Zone of Proximal Development

The definition of zone of proximal development as defined by Vygotsky is, "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers."
As understood by him, a child usually follows or imitates an adult's example for acting and reacting, and gradually develops the ability to perform tasks without any assistance. Hence, zone of proximal development is the difference between what a child can do with help and can't do without assistance or guidance.

In the Classroom

Ensuring the presence of this zone in the classroom, therefore, is very significant in the learning process to recognize and assess a student's intellectual capacity. In the classroom, this concept is bee-lined with another instructional design concept of scaffolding.
The concept of scaffolding is a process, wherein an instructor provides only the needed support by providing tasks that will enable a learner to build on prior knowledge, and once the stage of zone of proximal development has been reached, the guidance is gradually removed. This encourages the student to work and internalize new concepts.
The aids are in the form of verbal and nonverbal communication and model behavior. This concept along with more modifications and changes has played a significant role in the way education has been imparted. The idea being that an association, if not an immediate, then a gradual one has to be built between concepts, experiences, and reactions.
Knowledge alone cannot become development, but it has to be a channel through which intellectual stimulation and development occurs. Optimizing intellectual capacity that could surpass an instructor is what zone of proximal development aims for.


Guiding an individual through a particular problem and withdrawing help as an individual uses his/her prior knowledge to develop and understand new concepts is done through certain stages. R.G. Tharp and R. Gallimore in 1988, presented the following diagram to demonstrate the stages, from learning with an aim to acquiring knowledge and skills independently.
As per the diagram, learning is initiated and developed in four stages. Appropriate cognitive and communicative learning tools are used for the purpose of transferring knowledge. An example can be seen in our every day lives.
A parent or an instructor providing assistance to a child to solve a mathematical query, and as the child understands the concepts, learns to solve the problem without further assistance.
Stage One: The first stage demonstrates how children develop language and speech by relying on others such as caretakers or instructors for performing the task.
Stage Two: In the second stage, the children or learner uses prior knowledge to carry out the task without any guidance. The zone of proximal development occurs between the first and second stages.
Stage Three: In this stage, the task is performed automatically after being internalized, and according to Vygotsky, is fossilized.
Stage Four: At this juncture, the process is de-automatized through addresses and recursion.
Most activities in the zone start from advocating role play, where guidance to accomplish a particular task is taught, and then furthered on to independent thought and action.
One of the advantages of applying this concept for education is that it has successfully managed to connect theory, understanding, and technique in a useful manner, as it prepares a student to solve problems individually and independently.