Zone of Proximal Development
Developed by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development (ZPD) refers to a metaphorical area between material a learner has mastered, and material that goes beyond a learner’s ability. This ‘middle-ground’ represents “potential learning” that can only occur through interactions with a ‘more advanced peer:’ teachers, parents, more capable classmates. Building upon a student’s previous knowledge, a teacher working within the ZPD uses scaffolding to help the student develop the ability to do certain tasks without guidance (i.e. independently). Like the temporary supports that allow people to build large structures, instructional scaffolding primarily uses producers such as modeling, thinking aloud, asking questions, prompts and clues, or other forms of assistance to support the student’s understanding of a concept. These supports are gradually removed as the student develops a firm understanding that allows the student to perform the skill without any teacher intervention. The combination of teaching material within a student’s ZPD, and the use of scaffolding to support learning allow real learning to occur because the material provides a challenge, but builds upon the learner’s current knowledge base.
Teaching 7th graders how to find equivalent fractions, as I have been doing in my tutoring sessions, requires that I work within the students ZPD and provide scaffolding for the students to be able to work independently. The lessons began with a review of fractions, by using pictures of a circle split into different pieces, taking away a number of pieces, and having the students determine the fraction of pieces left. Since the students had been working with fractions in their normal classes this task provides minimal difficulty, but was used to refresh their memories. The lesson then moved into finding equivalent fractions, which the students initially struggled with by themselves, because it required...
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