Zone of Proximal Development

Zone of Prox….. what? And how am I suppose to use this?


So what is it?

The zone of proximal development is a concept created by psychologist Lev Vygotsky. According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is:

“the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978).

Basically,  it is the range of abilities that a person can perform with assistance, but cannot yet perform independently.  

Learning happens within the ZPD. If a task is too easy a student loses focus and gets bored, if it is too difficult one will get frustrated and shut down, but if it is just right then learning can occur.

How do I use this?

So now that you know what ZPD is, how do you as a teacher use this knowledge in your classroom? Well….Vygotsky provides us will multiple options. Peer to peer interaction, pairing up a struggling student with a peer that can help the student. Assistance from the teacher or More Knowledge Individual, when a student goes above ZPD and hits a mental block the teacher or another MKI can assist and guide the student until they get back to the ZPD. Cooperative group work (for more on cooperative learning see my post here) this should take place after scaffolding, group the student teacher and give them a task set just above their independent levels and have them work in the ZPD together. And scaffolding, the most commonly used classroom strategy. When a teacher scaffolds he/she presents the class with a task too difficult for them. She works through the task for them, then with them, then she has a student work through the task independently in front of the class. At this point you can have the students work in groups, pairs, or independently. Each student will need different strategies and will work through the ZPD differently.

This is 6 minute video with a classroom example of ZPD and the multiple options to enhance the students’ learning according to Vygotsky.



Below are my references and links to additional resources for scaffolding instruction.

References and other sources

Alexander, P. (2006). Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum. – This is an awesome blog post from a teacher explaining the above scaffolding strategies. Edutopia’s 6 scaffolding strategies. Indiana University’s scaffolding resources.


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