Zone of Proximal Development & Scaffolding

The final learning components I want to talk about are ZPD and scaffolding. These are two very intertwined ideas that are musts for instructors and students. Every student will have a different zone of proximal development. As a teacher it is my job to identify that zone and do everything possible to move that student past that zone and into the next level of learning. We all need help from time to time. Scaffolding is a great way to help students achieve their goals.

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.” This is basically what a person can do with aid, but not alone.

“Pedagogy must be oriented not to the yesterday, but to the tomorrow of the child’s development. Only then can it call to life in the process of education those processes of development which now lie in the zone of proximal development” – Lev Vygotsky


By identifying what a student can accomplish without assistance, an instructor can then form a plan to help that student to reach new heights. Scaffolding is a technique that helps students to learn and grow in incremental steps. Scaffolding is simply providing a student assistance to accomplish a task and then overtime removing the assistance to allow the student to perform the task unaided. Think of beginning spelling words where some of the letters are already in place with blanks for the missing letters. Over time the provided letters are less and the blanks more abundant until eventually no assistance is needed.

When one puts up a building one makes an elaborate scaffold to get everything into its proper place. But when one takes the scaffold down, the building must stand by itself with no trace of the means by which it was erected. – Andres Segovia


Examples of scaffolding include pairing higher performing students with those in need of assistance. This would allow the more advanced students to teach or model for the underachieving student’s needed skills. Another example might include giving a student hints and gradually reducing the hints as a student progresses.


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