BlogTeaching ResourcesHow to Deploy Zone of Proximal Development in Your Class: 4 Ways

    How to Deploy Zone of Proximal Development in Your Class: 4 Ways

    Do you want to help your students within your total capacity? If so, understanding the “zone of proximal development” is crucial for you. 

    The zone of proximal development is a concept that shows what an individual can achieve without help and what they can achieve with professional motivation and guidance. The term Proximal refers to those skills that your students have opted to master, like math, science, etc. 

    It is an old concept, but teachers can leverage it to drive maximum potential from their students in the present education system. If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, this article will help you understand ZPD and how to implement it in your classroom.

    What is Zone of Proximal Development?

    Image of a teacher teaching math visually

    The zone of proximal development learning approach was first introduced by a Soviet psychologist and social constructivist — Vygotsky, in 1978. According to him, the ZPD is a–

    “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.”

    In simple words, ZPD refers to a learner’s ability to learn under the guidance of a capable person. It revolves around the cognitive structure of learning tasks and the learner’s ability to process information.

    The primary purpose behind ZPD is that an educated person can enhance students’ knowledge on the topic slightly beyond their intellectual level. Once the students’ skills develop, experts can stop helping and let them work independently.  

    According to Vygotsky’s belief, a student’s skills development is based on two stages:

    • A level that they can achieve themselves 
    • A level that they can achieve with the support of a person more informed than them 

    The concept of pairing students with instructors is known as scaffolding. The role of the scaffold can be performed by anyone in a student’s life — a teacher, parent, or even a peer.

    Usually, scaffolding and ZPD are related to elementary and preschool classrooms. But, these concepts can also be implemented outside the school setting. For example, a parent teaches their child how to ride a bike. Or a student is learning how to solve a math problem from their friend.

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    Zone of Proximal- 3 Stages 

    Image of kids in computer class with teacher assisting them

    Let’s break it down better to understand the concept of the zone of proximal. This concept has three main stages that teachers should consider while creating the learning material for their students. The main ZPD stages:

    Stage 1. Things That Students Cannot Learn With Assistance 

    Things beyond a person’s ZPD level cannot be learned with assistance. There are some things that students cannot learn, even under professional guidance. These things are simply beyond a person’s potential level. Therefore, teachers must decrease the difficulty level and find tasks under the learner’s ZPD level. 

    Stage 2. Things That Students Can Learn With Assistance 

    Learners who are close to mastering a skill require some assistance to achieve it. It is the skill that is under their zone of proximal development. In this case, instructors must use different learning models to help students achieve the skill. 

    Stage 3. Things That Students Can Learn Without Assistance 

    In this stage, students have mastered a skill and don’t require professional help to develop the skill further. These are things that a student can learn independently without any help. When a student reaches this ZPD stage, the instructor should increase the task’s difficulty level. 

    How to Deploy Zone of Proximal Development In Your Class?

    Image of a kid studying online

    Here is the step-by-step guide to implement ZPD in your classroom:

    Step 1. Recognize your student’s intellectual level

    First of all, you should understand the intellectual level of your student. Then, you should discover all the things or skills your students already have mastered. This way, you can create learning material and curriculum based on your students’ knowledge.

    Step 2. Scaffold the knowledge 

    Afterward, teachers should scaffold the knowledge to walk students from what they already know to what they should learn at the end of a class. Finally, teachers should plan lessons based on the scaffolding process to guide students better. 

    Step 3. Connect the Learning 

    Next, teachers should connect the new learning with students’ knowledge. For example, if you have just taught your students how to divide decimals, you can also connect this with how to multiply decimals.

    Step 4. Sum It Up

    Finally, teachers should evaluate the new learning level of the students. Once they have taught a new thing to students, they should monitor their ZPD level after that. This will help teachers understand whether a student has mastered a skill. If a student can now perform a task without teachers’ help, they can increase the difficulty level to expand the student’s knowledge base.

    Zone of Proximal Development Example 

    Students sitting in a circle in the classroom

    When the concept of ZPD and scaffolding is applied correctly, it can teach things to students beyond their capabilities. Check out some common ZPD examples in schools:

    Example 1

    When a preschool student struggles to read a complete sentence, the teacher can ask them to read one word at a time. Once a student reads all the words in a sentence, the teacher asks them to read the entire sentence.

    Example 2

    To teach students how to draw a rectangle, the teacher first draws two horizontal lines and then connects them with two vertical lines. Teachers repeat the process until students are experts in drawing a rectangle. 

    Conclusive Thoughts

    The zone of proximal development theory is the best way to teach new things to your students. In this technique, you first understand what your students already know. Then, based on this knowledge, you can design personalized lessons to expand your students’ knowledge about things they already know.

    ZPD is a time-consuming and technical learning method. It might take you some time to implement this theory in your classroom. But, in the long run, you can observe a significant improvement in your students’ performance. 

    So, you can refer to this guide to take a small step towards implementing ZPD theory in your classroom.


    How do you find the zone of proximal development?

    Parents and teachers have to ask questions and observe a child’s skills to find the zone of proximal development. This will help them understand the skills that a child already knows, and based on this information, teachers can create a curriculum to advance those skills.

    What is Vygotsky's scaffolding theory?

    Scaffolding theory is designed to support the zone of proximal development. Under this theory, instructors break down tasks into small steps that the student can independently perform. However, the instructor has to assist until a student becomes a master in completing the task.

    Jill Baker
    Jill Baker has been teaching for 10 years and she loves sharing everything she has learned to help other teachers.

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