Term of Art: Zone of Proximal Development

zone of proximal development: The gap between the level of a student’s independent function and how he or she may perform learning tasks with help. This term was coined by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) and refers to the fact that it is crucial to provide help before a child gets frustrated. Failure can be avoided when teachers are aware of a student’s zone of proximal development and provide just enough support to enable students to achieve a goal that would not have been possible independently.

This concept may play a key role in educational approaches, in that it represents a way of thinking about what is involved in meeting students’ needs, and of understanding teaching and learning as a dynamic and developmental process, rather than as a static juxtaposition of instruction and learning readiness.

This theory allows a teacher to see a student’s learning problems not as impediments but rather as a starting point for a process of development that challenges students within the scope of what they are able to master successfully with the appropriate instruction. An approach to teaching that incorporates this concept must also mean that a teacher begins to teach a child at his or her current level, rather than at arbitrary curricular standards.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

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