Leading Learners through Zone of Proximal Development

12 November, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Leading Learners through Zone of Proximal Development

Russian Psychologist cum educationalist Lev Vygotsky (1896 -1934) identified a zone in the learning of children where the learners need support from knowledgeable others who are usually teachers or more competent peers. This zone in the learning process is called the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The gap between what a learner can do or achieve themselves on their own and what they can achieve with the help of competent and experienced others is called the zone of proximal development. That is, students themselves can solve some problems but sometimes they require support from others to achieve the goal. This support can be in the form of general encouragement such as ‘you are able to do the work; start now’; it can be in the form of direct and clear instruction such as ‘take two teaspoonful of edible oil and put them in the boiling water; then stir with a spoon and the put --- and heat for five minutes, and ---’; and it can be demonstrated by teachers or experienced peers about how to accomplish a task. Whatever the form of support is, it is tapered off (withdrawn) when the leaners get the points and are able to accomplish the task. This kind of support by teachers is called scaffolding by Lev Vygotsky. Literally, scaffolding is the metallic or wooden structure that the builders use as support so that the pillars and the roofs can be constructed. On the other hand, the builders can do the finishing work like plastering, painting, etc. of the buildings with the help of the supportive structures. In this case, the structure or the supports can be considered as scaffolding enabling them to accomplish the task. However, those supports are removed when the builders have completed their work. In other words, in case of the building itself, when the pillars and the roofs are able to stand by themselves, the supports are removed. The stated support or the scaffolding is removed when they are capable enough on their own feet.

This idea of scaffolding is important in the field of education. Scaffolding in teaching-learning is providing the necessary support to the learners and then removing the support when it is no more necessary. Teachers scaffold students through the zone of proximal development and that is why teachers are important in children’s learning. Teachers are important because they are like heroes to the children and their encouragement work as energizer to the learners. If only encouragement does not work, they can provide clear instruction about how to do something. If the learners or some learners fail to understand and accomplish the task, teachers show them practically how to do that and then engage them in experiencing the learning by doing. Teachers’ responsibility is to lead the students through the zone of proximal development so that the leaners can achieve through experiences. It depends on the knowledge and skills of a teacher how skillfully they can lead the learners through the ZPD. Teachers need better education, training, and observation skills to manage the learning of students properly. Although theoretically teachers are heroes to the students, nowadays, a small number of teachers can influence their students through their sincerity, pedantry, and inspiring power. There might be some reasons why teachers cannot positively influence and lead students through the zone of proximal development. A research study may unearth the reasons why teachers, in most cases, fail to lead students properly through the ZPD. 

Some of the students in schools, colleges, and universities are able to solve the problem given by the teachers but some others may not be able to do that unsupported. It is mentioned earlier that the support a peer or a teacher provides him/her is called scaffolding. As the metallic or wooden structures are removed after the pillars and the roofs are strong enough to stand by themselves or the builders are able to accomplish the task unsupported, teachers also taper off the support when students are able to do a task themselves after having support from the knowledgeable others. It is believed by the constructivists that social knowledge is constructed and re-constructed based on the interactions and this interaction is better to take place with the more experienced and knowledgeable others; and those more knowledgeable others may be the peers or the teachers who are more knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled.

Therefore, it is expected that learners would make interactions in and outside the educational institutions as much as possible. As it is taken for granted that interactions with the knowledgeable others help learners to achieve knowledge. In Bangladesh teachers of all levels should engage students in more and more pair and group work where students with different abilities take part. Thus through fruitful interactions with peers and teachers, students gather knowledge and make their knowledgebase stronger through dialogues and debates. Based on the principle of constructivism, the secondary curriculum of Bangladesh has been developed. Therefore, teachers should engage students in interactions through employing the techniques of participatory approaches.


The writer is Associate Professor at Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka. He can be reached at:

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