Category Archives: Scaffolding

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) has been by defined by Vygotsky as:

“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” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Lev Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development.

Two studies:

(a) Wood and Middleton (1975) – Scaffolding and the ZPD

The following study provides empirical support the both the concept of scaffolding and the ZPD.

Procedure: 4 year old children had to use a set of blocks and pegs to build a 3D model shown in a picture. Building the model was too difficult a task for a 4 year old child to complete alone.

Wood and Middleton (1975) observed how mothers interacted with their children to build the 3D model. The type of support included:

  • General encouragement e.g. ‘now you have a go.’
  • Specific instructions e.g. ‘get four big blocks.’
  • Direct demonstration e.g. showing the child how to place one block on another.

The results of the study showed that no single strategy was best for helping the child to progress. Mothers whose assistance was most effective were those who varied their strategy according to how the child was doing. When the child was doing well, they became less specific in their help. When the child started to struggle, they gave increasingly specific instructions until the child started to make progress again.

The study illustrates scaffolding, and Vygotsky’s concept of the ZPD. Scaffolding (i.e. assistance) is most effective when the support is matched to the needs of the learner. This puts them in a position to achieve success in an activity that they would previously not have been able to do alone.

Wood et al. (1976) named certain processes that aid effective scaffolding:

  • Gaining and maintaining the learner’s interest in the task.
  • Making the task simple.
  • Emphasizing certain aspects that will help with the solution.
  • Control the child’s level of frustration.
  • Demonstrate the task.

(b) Freund (1990) – Dolls House Study

Freund (1990) wanted to investigate if children learn more effectively via Piaget’s concept of discovery learning or by guided learning via the ZPD.

She asked a group of children between the ages of three and five years to help a puppet to decide which furniture should be placed in the various rooms of a dolls house. First Freund assessed what each child already understood about the placement of furniture (as a baseline measure).

Next, each child worked on a similar task, either alone (re: discovery based learning) or with their mother (re: scaffolding / guided learning). To assess what each child had learned they were each given a more complex, furniture sorting task.

The results of the study showed that children assisted by their mother performed better at the furniture sorting than the children who worked independently.

Educational Applications

‘From a Vygotskian perspective, the teacher’s role is mediating the child’s learning activity as they share knowledge through social interaction’ (Dixon-Krauss, 1996, p. 18). Scaffolding is a key feature of effective teaching and can include modeling a skill, providing hints or cues, and adapting material or activity (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).

In the classroom scaffolding can can be performed with just about any task. Consider these guidelines for scaffolding instruction (Silver, 2011)

  • Assess the learner’s current knowledge and experience for the academic content.
  • Relate content to what students already understand or can do.
  • Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback.
  • Use verbal cues and prompts to assist students.

A contemporary application of Vygotsky’s theories is “reciprocal teaching”, used to improve students’ ability to learn from text. In this method, teacher and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher’s role in the process is reduced over time.

Vygotsky’s theories also feed into current interest in collaborative learning, suggesting that group members should have different levels of ability so more advanced peers can help less advanced members operate within their zone of proximal development. 

For more on scaffolding and the ZPD go here. 

References

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Dixon-Krauss, L. (1996). Vygotsky in the classroom. Mediated literacy instruction and assessment. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Freund, L. S. (1990). Maternal Regulation of Children’s Problem-solving Behavior and Its Impact on Children’s Performance. Child Development, 61, 113-126.

Silver, D. (2011). Using the ‘Zone’Help Reach Every Learner. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(sup1), 28-31.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving.Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.

Wood, D., & Middleton, D. (1975). A study of assisted problem-solving. British Journal of Psychology, 66(2), 181−191.


How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2012). Zone of Proximal Development. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html

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Vygotsky (and an introduction to Scaffolding and ZPD)

ZPD

Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934)
Vygotsky’s main work was in developmental psychology, and he proposed a theory of the development of higher cognitive functions in children that saw reasoning as emerging through practical activity in a social environment.

Vygotsky also posited a concept he called the zone of proximal development (ZPD), often understood to refer to the way that acquisition of new knowledge depends on previous learning, as well as the availability of instruction.

Vygotsky developed a sociocultural approach to cognitive development. He developed his theories at around the same time as Jean Piaget was starting to develop his ideas (1920’s and 30’s), but he died at the age of 38 and so his theories are incomplete – although some of his writings are still being translated from Russian.

No single principle (such as Piaget’s equilibration) can account for development. Individual development cannot be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which it is embedded. Higher mental processes in the individual have their origin in social processes.

Classroom Applications
A contemporary educational application of Vygotsky’s theories is “reciprocal teaching”, used to improve students’ ability to learn from text. In this method, teachers and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher’s role in the process is reduced over time.

Scaffolding and ZPD 
Also, Vygotsky is relevant to instructional concepts such as “scaffolding” and “apprenticeship”, in which a teacher or more advanced peer helps to structure or arrange a task so that a novice can work on it successfully. Vygotsky’s theories also feed into the current interest in collaborative learning (or project based learning), suggesting that group members should have different levels of ability so more advanced peers can help less advanced members operate within their ZPD

Social Influences on Cognitive Development

Like Piaget, Vygotsky believes that young children are curious and actively involved in their own learning and the discovery and development of new understandings/schema.  However, Vygotsky placed more emphasis on social contributions to the process of development, whereas Piaget emphasized self-initiated discovery.

According to Vygotsky (1978), much important learning by the child occurs through social interaction with a skillful tutor. The tutor may model behaviors and/or provide verbal instructions for the child. Vygotsky refers to this as cooperative or collaborative dialogue. The child seeks to understand the actions or instructions provided by the tutor (often the parent or teacher) then internalizes the information, using it to guide or regulate their own performance.

Shaffer (1996) gives the example of a young girl who is given her first jigsaw. Alone, she performs poorly in attempting to solve the puzzle. The father then sits with her and describes or demonstrates some basic strategies, such as finding all the corner/edge pieces and provides a couple of pieces for the child to put together herself and offers encouragement when she does so.

As the child becomes more competent, the father allows the child to work more independently. According to Vygotsky, this type of social interaction involving cooperative or collaborative dialogue promotes cognitive development.

In order to gain an understanding of Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development, one must understand two of the main principles of Vygotsky’s work: the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

More Knowledgeable Other

The more knowledgeable other (MKO) is somewhat self-explanatory; it refers to someone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept.

Although the implication is that the MKO is a teacher or an older adult, this is not necessarily the case. Many times, a child’s peers or an adult’s children may be the individuals with more knowledge or experience.

For example, who is more likely to know more about the newest teenage music groups, how to win at the most recent PlayStation game, or how to correctly perform the newest dance craze – a child or their parents?

In fact, the MKO need not be a person at all. Some companies, to support employees in their learning process, are now using electronic performance support systems. 

Electronic tutors have also been used in educational settings to facilitate and guide students through the learning process. The key to MKOs is that they must have (or be programmed with) more knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner does.

Zone of Proximal Development

The concept of the More Knowledgeable Other is integrally related to the second important principle of Vygotsky’s work, the Zone of Proximal Development.

This is an important concept that relates to the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner.

For example, the child could not solve the jigsaw puzzle (in the example above) by itself and would have taken a long time to do so (if at all), but was able to solve it following interaction with the father, and has developed competence at this skill that will be applied to future jigsaws.

 

Vygotsky (1978) sees the Zone of Proximal Development as the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given – allowing the child to develop skills they will then use on their own – developing higher mental functions.

Vygotsky also views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies.  He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development. 

Evidence for Vygotsky and the ZPD

Freund (1990) conducted a study in which children had to decide which items of furniture should be placed in particular areas of a dolls house.

Some children were allowed to play with their mother in a similar situation before they attempted it alone (zone of proximal development) whilst others were allowed to work on this by themselves (Piaget’s discovery learning). 

 

Freund found that those who had previously worked with their mother (ZPD) showed greatest improvement compared with their first attempt at the task.  The conclusion being that guided learning within the ZPD led to greater understanding/performance than working alone (discovery learning).

Vygotsky and Language

Vygotsky believed that language develops from social interactions, for communication purposes. Vygotsky viewed language as man’s greatest tool, a means for communicating with the outside world.

According to Vygotsky (1962) language plays 2 critical roles in cognitive development:

1: It is the main means by which adults transmit information to children.

2: Language itself becomes a very powerful tool of intellectual adaptation.

Vygotsky (1987) differentiates between three forms of language: social speech which is external communication used to talk to others (typical from the age of two); private speech (typical from the age of three) which is directed to the self and serves an intellectual function; and finally private speech goes underground, diminishing in audibility as it takes on a self-regulating function and is transformed into silent inner speech (typical from the age of seven).

For Vygotsky, thought and language are initially separate systems from the beginning of life, merging at around three years of age. At this point speech and thought become interdependent: thought becomes verbal, speech becomes representational. When this happens, children’s monologues internalized to become inner speech. The internalization of language is important as it drives cognitive development.

‘Inner speech is not the interior aspect of external speech – it is a function in itself. It still remains speech, i.e. thought connected with words. But while in external speech thought is embodied in words, in inner speech words dies as they bring forth thought. Inner speech is to a large extent thinking in pure meanings.’

(Vygotsky, 1962: p. 149)

For additional reading, graphics, and a video go to Simply Psychology

References

Behrend, D.A., Rosengren, K.S., & Perlmutter, M. (1992). The relation between private speech and parental interactive style. In R.M. Diaz & L.E. Berk (Eds.),Private speech: From social interaction to self-regulation (pp. 85–100). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Berk, L. E. (1986). Relationship of elementary school children’s private speech to behavioral accompaniment to task, attention, and task performance.Developmental Psychology, 22(5), 671.

Berk, L. & Garvin, R. (1984). Development of private speech among low-income Appalachian children. Developmental Psychology, 20(2), 271-286.

Berk, L. E., & Landau, S. (1993). Private speech of learning-disabled and normally achieving children in classroom academic and laboratory contexts.Child Development, 64, 556–571.

Diaz, R. M., & Berk, L. E. (1992). Private speech: From social interaction to self-regulation. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Frauenglass, M. & Diaz, R. (1985). Self-regulatory functions of children’s private speech: A critical analysis of recent challenges to Vygotsky’s theory.Developmental Psychology, 21(2), 357-364.

Fernyhough, C., & Fradley, E. (2005). Private speech on an executive task: Relations with task difficulty and task performance. Cognitive Development, 20, 103–120.

Freund, L. S. (1990). Maternal regulation of children’s problem-solving behavior and its impact on children’s performance. Child Development, 61, 113-126.

Ostad, S. A., & Sorensen, P. M. (2007). Private speech and strategy-use patterns: Bidirectional comparisons of children with and without mathematical difficulties in a developmental perspective. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40, 2–14.

Piaget, J. (1959). The language and thought of the child (Vol. 5). Psychology Press.

Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeships in thinking. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schaffer, R. (1996). Social development. Oxford: Blackwell.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology (pp. 39–285). New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934.)

Winsler, A., Abar, B., Feder, M. A., Schunn, C. D., & Rubio, D. A. (2007). Private speech and executive functioning among high-functioning children with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1617-1635.


How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html

 

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