The Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development is a model developed by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. It states that learning is most successful in a social context, meaning that people learn more and develop further when they are supported by somebody who is more advanced in a certain area and functions as their mentor (or social pedagogue).

Vygotsky defines the zone of proximal development as ‘the distance between the actual developmental 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’. In this sense the social pedagogue could be a practitioner or another child!

According to Schwartz (2001), the Zone of Proximal Development can be extended through four different scenarios of supporting children in their learning:

  • Starting from the child’s motivation to learn
    Children want to learn and are interested in finding out new things – this provides a great opportunity for social pedagogues to support their learning.
  • Starting from where the pedagogue thinks the child ‘is’
    The starting point for learning is where the child is at, and the social pedagogue can assess this through observations, reflection and dialogue.
  • Mutual process of learning together, e.g. Common Third
    Learning can also be a mutual process, in which both the social pedagogue and the child learn something new and support each other in this.
  • Necessary development, things that need to be learned
    There are things that we all need to learn in order to lead a happy life in dignity, be part of society and make use of our resourcefulness.