Appropriate Challenge and the ZPD

While we all love a good acronym, it can be frustrating when they get thrown around and you feel like you are not in the know.  Chances are, however, even if you don’t know what ZPD is off the top of your head, you probably think about it in the context of your classroom all the time.

ZPD is short for Zone of Proximal Development, which was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s and was elaborated on until his death in 1934.  The ZPD is used to describe the distance between what a child can do independently and what they can do with the assistance of a more knowledgeable partner (Eun, 2019).  That more knowledgeable partner could be the teacher, a peer, or even an interactive computer program.  The ZPD is the basis for a lot of our current scaffolding practices such as simplifying a task, monitoring ongoing performance, and adjusting the level of assistance provided.  We can also see the influence of the ZPD when we use graphic organizers to support student thinking, help them choose a “just right” book to read, or reference the learning continuum from student Map results to target learning.  The ZPD goes beyond scaffolding, however, framing student-teacher collaboration and negotiation as a bilateral process as opposed to something that is always done by the teacher.  Finding appropriate challenge and thus avoiding boredom and confusion and the subsequent distraction, frustration, and lack of motivation, is thus a shared responsibility.

Closely tied to the concept of a ZPD are social practices associated with learning, both in and out of the classroom.  Vygotsky believed that learning was a process of knowledge co-construction and becoming a member of a community, reframing learning to be more than just an accumulation of knowledge (Renshaw, 1998), but rather a property of the interaction between the students and the learning environment (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  In our classrooms students are learning more than just the content we teach, they are learning the vocabulary and ways of talking about the different subject areas, they are learning to communicate and verify different knowledge claims, and they are learning the values and beliefs that form the implicit and explicit features of our community culture.  Knowledge and abilities are dynamic and are the result of a student’s history and social interactions in the world and we all come to master our cognitive functions in unique ways and through participation in different activities and cultures.  Thinking through the lens of the ZPD can give us another way to think about developing cultural objectives that are meaningful for our students and how they see themselves and form their identities in the various content areas they move in and out of throughout the day.

When we think about learning and the ZPD it is easy to see how students learn through the support of a more knowledgeable peer, but this social component of learning is supportive for the development of the higher mental functions of both students (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  The collaboration provides a space for the more knowledgeable student to reflect and make concepts explicit in their thinking.  These roles often evolve as well, with students taking on different roles at different points in their learning.

So what role do I play as a teacher?  Think of students not as just separate individuals in the same place at the same time.  Rather they should be engaged in a collaborative activity that fulfils a specific goal where the ZPD is created based on the need for collaboration and assistance to make progress toward that goal.  The teacher’s role is thus facilitating the interrelated zones of students as they take control of their own learning.  We are on a continuous journey with our students as they progress through different and evolving zones and make sense of the world.  Vygotsky said it well, suggesting that teachers must be focusing “not on yesterday’s development in the child buy on tomorrow’s” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211).

References

Eun, B. (2019). The zone of proximal development as an overarching concept: A framework for synthesizing Vygotsky’s theories. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 18-30.

Renshaw, P. (1998). Sociocultural pedagogy for new times: Reframing key concepts. The Australian Educational Researcher25(3), 83-100.

Shabani, K., Khatib, M., & Ebadi, S. (2010). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development: Instructional implications and teachers’ professional development. English language teaching3(4), 237-248.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (eds.)., The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 1. Problems of general psychology (pp. 39-285).. New York: Plenum.

Welcome to Learning @ ISB!

Welcome to the learning at ISB blog! We’ve been pretty quiet the last 2 years, but we’re back and excited to continue sharing learning at its best at ISB.

At least twice per month, we’ll be publishing posts written by ISB educators sharing their thoughts & reflections on learning. Have an idea for a guest post? Let us know! Want to get inspiration delivered to your inbox? Enter your email on the right to subscribe! [Make sure to keep an eye on your ‘Other’ inbox tab for the emails!]

Have thoughts about something you read on this blog? We love comments! Feel free to leave your thoughts here or come chat with us in person.

As we relaunch this blog, we wanted to introduce Learning at its Best and our principles & approaches of learning. You probably have one of these posters up in your classroom or have seen them around the school. All of our blog posts will be written through these lenses. Want to dive deeper into one area? Check out the categories on the right to begin exploring!

Learning at its Best

ISB’s principles of learning provide a research-based foundation for how students learn best and insight into what makes our learning environments most effective. ISB’s Learning Principles are based on Tripod’s 7C framework of effective teaching: Care, Challenge, Confer, Clarify, Captivate, Consolidate, Collaborate, Classroom Management.

The approaches of learning are integral to how we design learning experiences at ISB, guiding our instructional practices.

Social-Emotional Learning – Research shows that explicitly teaching social and emotional skills increases student well-being, enhances positive behavior, reduces crises, and enhances academic achievement. A focus on social-emotional learning also creates a safe, positive school culture. At ISB, we prioritize building relationships and want every student to feel cared for every day. Our Social-Emotional Framework supports students in developing self-awareness, self-management, social and cultural competence, nurturing relationships, and taking purposeful action.

Personalized Learning – At ISB, we believe in a progressively learner-driven model of personalized learning to facilitate student ownership of the learning process and provide student voice and choice in their learning. We empower students to build strong relationships, leverage their interests, and assess their strengths and areas for growth to engage in deep, relevant learning.

Service Learning – Service Learning is infused into the curriculum and across the co-curricular program at ISB. It is a relevant learning journey that integrates meaningful action with instruction and reflection. We believe that Service Learning develops compassion and empathy, strengthens communities, and nurtures a global mindset.

C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework – The community at ISB is culturally & linguistically diverse, and we aim to serve our emergent bilingual and multilingual students so that they are able to access grade-level standards regardless of language proficiency. The C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework supports faculty in creating culturally responsive lessons that celebrate the diversity of our students.

Inquiry Pathway – At ISB, we empower students to ask questions, think critically, and reflect. Based on provocations and real-world phenomenon, students see & think, wonder & question, investigate & explore, make meaning & find patterns, and explain & construct arguments.

Design Process – Solutions to the problems of the world do not exist in silos and neither should learning. Students at ISB are given the opportunity to use design-thinking to create connections between traditional curricular areas and build empathy while solving real-world, authentic problems.


We hope you’re as excited as we are for this blog to be active again! Next week, keep your eyes open for a post from Angie (MS/HS Math Instructional Coach) with a focus on Challenge. Even better, get her post delivered to your email as soon as it’s published by subscribing on the right! After you subscribe, look in your email to confirm your subscription.

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