1) Describe Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and the role it plays in children’s Cognitive development.
Lev Vygotsky presented his ideas on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in 1933 but died a year later (Meira and Lerman, 2001). Despite not being able to add further detail to his concept, Vygotsky’s work on the ZPD has been influential for those studying the role of interaction between children and adults on development (Slater and Bremner, 2008). This essay will describe the ZPD and consider its role in children’s cognitive development.
Vygotsky’s ZPD focuses on the potential of the child. It is the gap or space between what a child can currently do independently and what the child could potentially do with help. The ZPD is therefore focused on moving from knowledge that is currently established in a child towards new possibilities in learning (Smidt, 2009).
According to Vygotsky, knowledge must transpire between individuals before it can be internalised by an individual alone (Slater and Bremner, 2008) and the ZPD was influenced by his belief that children’s most important “discoveries” take place within a social context (Bjorkland, 2000 p.61). Vygotsky (1978, p.86) proposed that “adults” or “more able peers” played a vital role in moving children through the ZPD, within which he believed learning and cognitive development took place. The ZPD therefore illustrates how children’s learning can be more effectively enhanced by appropriate interactions with an expert other, as opposed to them being involved in solitary play. Vygotsky didn’t identify who “more able peers” were (Smidt, 2009) and never specified exactly how they should support children but his ZPD still offers a great deal by emphasising the relation between children’s cognitive development and social collaborations (Moll, 1990).
The ZPD was presented as an alternative to existing assessment procedures (Moll, 1990) and Vygotsky proposed that adults seek to understand the whole child in terms of their “social, cultural and societal” world (Berk and Winsler, p1). The ZPD can therefore be applied to every child, whilst each child’s ZPD will consequently be unique. This raises the importance of constantly assessing the starting point of each child’s ZPD and considering what they should realistically be able to do with appropriate support. Vygotsky’s ZPD demands skill, knowledge and understanding of the adult and assumes they know both how and when to intervene (Slater and Bremner, 2008). Nevertheless, recent studies demonstrate that parents instinctively know how to adapt their support to effectively lead their children’s learning forward (Siegler, Deloache and Eisenberg, 2006).
The social context is recognised as being an extremely productive environment and Vygotsky’s ZPD includes key aspects which provide opportunities for cognitive development – the use of cultural tools/skills, instructional dialogue, frequent learning opportunities, established relationships, interactions adapted to the needs of the child and the involvement of individuals with diverse knowledge/experience (Gauvain, 2007). The ZPD has influenced later frameworks such as Bruner’s “scaffolding” and the REPEY project’s “sustained shared thinking”. These have, along with the ZPD, informed educational policy and practice and in turn, practitioners’ understanding of children’s cognitive development and the importance of the social context (Patterson, 2007).
Although some aspects within Vygotsky’s concept are vague, the ZPD gives a useful framework for enhancing children’s learning effectively and its social context is an ideal foundation for children’s cognitive development. Consequently Vygotsky’s ZPD has stimulated discussion and further research and is used to this day in informing and transforming educational practice.