Zone of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development, frequently known as ZPD, shows what tasks children can complete with and without assistance.

The idea was first discovered by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky.

His theory has been widely applied in classroom settings all over the world and is one of the foundations for how students learn each and every day. 

Vygotsky’s Theory

Vygotsky proposed a theory of intellectual development that focused on a child’s ability to learn to do things on their own.

Numerous ideas rose from that philosophy that are essential to classroom learning.

In the article below, you’ll learn about two main ideas: 

1.     Zone of proximal development

2.     Scaffolding

Zone of proximal development

The zone of proximal development, also known as ZPD, is a significant belief of Vygotsky’s.

ZPD is described as the variety of works that a young person can achieve with the support and direction of elders but cannot yet complete autonomously.

Within the zone of proximal development there are two stages.

a)     The growth stage. This tests the level of tasks that a child can complete on their own.

b)    Growth potential: this tests what an individual can do with the help of a more knowledgeable person. 

Vygotsky on ZPD

Vygotsky observed the zone of proximal development as the part where the greatest amount of training or supervision should occur.

This would let the young person grow his or her cognitive capabilities.

If too much assistance was provided, then the young person would not reach their full cognitive potential.

This also ensures that the information presented is neither too challenging nor too simple for the pupil to grasp. 

What Are Some More Examples of ZPD?

Below are the most common examples of the zone of proximal development:

  1. A student can understand an idea being debated in class but is struggling to fully comprehend it on their own. The teacher works with the student to support them on how to understand the idea being discussed and support them in ways that allow them to learn and understand this idea on their own. 
  2. A baker makes wonderful cakes when employed at a bakery, but feels that they’re struggling to make quality cakes when they’re on their own. By working under the supervision of a mentor, the baker is able to learn the skills needed to bake high quality cakes.
  3. Tennis players are able to hit the ball over the net but have trouble serving the ball. Through suitable training that is based on their strengths, they eventually learn to serve the ball successfully.
  4. A 15-year-old is able to efficiently drive and reverse the car, but cannot parallel park. Through instruction from a driving teacher or adult, the student eventually learns how to parallel park. 
  5. A medical school student has trouble suturing a patient. A more advanced student helps the struggling student learn how to properly suture through demonstrations before they try suturing again on their own. 


Scaffolding is related to the zone of proximal development in that it helps a student complete a task within their ZPD.

This process is accomplished by having an expert assist a less knowledgeable individual.

For example, there could be a teacher supporting a student, or an older student supporting a younger student. 

To better understand this idea, let’s look at how scaffolding is used in the building of a house.

The scaffold is an exterior construction that delivers provision for the employees until the house itself is durable enough to stand on its own.

As the home becomes stronger throughout the building process, the scaffold becomes less necessary.

The removal of the scaffolding allows the house to stand on its own because it has a strong enough foundation.

This concept applies to the ZPD as well. If you provide enough support to help a student but not so much support that they don’t learn anything, then you provide the student with the greatest chance of learning a lot on their own.

The opportunity for success is extremely high and builds up cognitive independence and confidence. 

ZPD in education

The zone of proximal development is significant in education because children can either complete a task that is too challenging or too easy for them to complete.

In those moments, the children are not learning anything.

Learning in the zone of proximal development happens when a teacher gives a student material that’s stimulating enough so that it is fascinating, engaging, and requires minimal assistance from the educator.

ZPD Applications in the Classroom

Below is a procedure by which a teacher can test the strength of the zone of proximal development.

Firstly, a teacher should identify what a student already knows.

By identifying this information, the teacher can shape new ideas surrounding the existing knowledge.

Following this step, the teacher can add to this new information by way of the scaffolding process.

This process will help students learn new material and understand what they should learn throughout the course. When preparing lessons, teachers should use the scaffolding method in practice.

Previously, teachers helped students learn new information by combining examples in their lesson plans.

For instance, if a mathematics teacher just taught students how to master dividing fractions, then the teacher may have used an example of multiplying fractions to teach this new concept.

Applying the idea of the zone of proximal development allows the teacher to identify what a student knows, add a new piece of information to existing knowledge and then incorporates it in a way that allows students to understand the new concept on their own. 

FAQs on the Zone of Proximal Development:

Why is the Zone of Proximal Development so important?

The zone of proximal development is the area where the greatest amount of learning happens.

This area allows the recipient to understand what is being taught to them and shows that the information being presented is neither overly challenging nor overly simplified.

This ensures that the student is learning as much as possible from the teacher in this setting

Is the ZPD same for everyone?

The zone of proximal development will vary from person to person.

It’s extremely important that the teacher keeps this in mind when communicating information to students in a classroom setting.

Understanding that each student has a different ZPD will confirm that they are being taught in a way that is most effective for them.

This allows the student to stretch themselves intellectually and grasp as much new information as possible.

How much should you help someone when they’re learning?

One of the goals of the ZPD is to ensure that while you can provide assistance, it’s important not to provide too much assistance to a student.

If someone receives too much help, then they will not learn the new concept being presented on their own.

If someone is struggling, it’s ok to offer help, but it’s also important to help them in a way that will allow them to learn as they go so they can arrive at the correct answer on their own. 

Interested in Learning More? Check out these books on the Zone of Proximal Development:


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