Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.
'Okay, class, today we're going to solve equations. Here we go. Who can tell me the answer of this equation: 3x = 12? No one? Come on, guys. Fine; I guess I'll just stand up here all day until you answer.'
Yikes! Mrs. Green has no clue how to guide her students through this problem! She has assumed all of them know the steps to solving an equation and is not making any attempt to assist. Let's see if we can't help Mrs. Green use some concepts of cognitive development according to Lev Vygotsky.
Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding
The psychologist Vygotsky developed a theory of cognitive development that focused on the role of culture in the development of higher mental functions. Several concepts arose from that theory that are important to classroom learning. This lesson will focus on two concepts: zone of proximal development and scaffolding.
The zone of proximal development, commonly referred to as ZPD, is an important principle of Vygotsky's work. ZPD is defined as the range of tasks that a child can perform with the help and guidance of others but cannot yet perform independently.
Within the zone of proximal development there are two levels. First we have the actual development level. This is the upper limit of tasks one can perform independently. The second level is the level of potential development. This is the upper limit of tasks that one can perform with the assistance of a more competent individual.
Vygotsky viewed the zone of proximal development as the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should occur. This would allow the child to develop skills to use on his or her own to develop higher mental functions.
Scaffolding is the second concept of focus. Scaffolding is directly related to zone of proximal development in that it is the support mechanism that helps a learner successfully perform a task within his or her ZPD. Typically, this process is completed by a more competent individual supporting the learning of a less competent individual. So, for example, there could be a teacher assisting a student, or a higher-level peer assisting a younger peer.
To understand this concept better, let's think about how scaffolding is used in the construction of a home. The scaffold is an external structure that provides support for the workers until the house itself is strong enough to support them. As the home gains stability, the scaffold becomes less necessary and is gradually removed.
Scaffolding is applied similarly in the classroom. First, the teacher should provide clues about how to proceed through the problem. As the child becomes capable of solving the problem without support, the teacher gradually removes these clues. This process is referred to as fading.
Let's talk a little bit about assessing the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development should be assessed by instructors on a regular basis. This can be done through the following steps:
- The teacher should demonstrate solving a problem and observe whether the child can imitate the demonstration.
- The teacher should begin solving the problem and ask the learner to complete the solution.
- The teacher should ask the child to cooperate with another, more developed child in solving the problem.
Let's put this all together and see how Mrs. Green should have started her class.
'Okay, students, our goal for the end of class is to be able to solve equations. First I want to see how much of the process you can already do. Okay, class, what should we do at this point? No one knows? Okay, I'll help. First we need to get x alone. We do that by performing the opposite mathematical function, so if 3x is multiplied, we need to divide 12 by 3 to get x alone. Great job, class; let's keep practicing!'
In order to use scaffolding and the zone of proximal development in the classroom, instructors should remember that good learning precedes and leads development and that collaboration should be between the student and a highly advanced other. Instructors should also have students work in small groups to perform difficult tasks. They can work with students to develop a plan for dealing with a new task, and they may also divide a complex task into several smaller, simpler tasks. The instructor should also provide structure or guidelines about how the task should be accomplished.
In summary, the zone of proximal development allows instructors to assess the range of tasks that a child can perform independently and with the help of an advanced other. Scaffolding is a process that supports students as they learn to perform a task independently. It is important to remove scaffolding as the students begin to master the problems independently. There are many principles an instructor can implement in the classroom in order to guide and support higher mental function development of their students through the use of ZPD and scaffolding.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to define zone of proximal development and scaffolding, and understand how to apply these concepts in the classroom.
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