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In the Zone part II or, Why Lev is fabulous

I may be Lev Vygotsky’s biggest fan because I find universal application for his theory.  It is applicable for any developing individual or relationship in any situation: formal, social, spiritual, etc.  I believe it creates the optimal environment for development because it is, by nature, individual, continuous and supported.

There is only 1 zone of proximal development around me.  There’s only one around you.  The things in our individual zones may be similar at this moment but our personalities, our past learning and our future goals influence how things play out in the zone right now.  Even with all that similarity and perspective though, there’s no competition, just extremely focused development.   In order to achieve that kind of focus, it helps to cultivate an awareness (awareness, not mastery) of as many aspects of development as possible ( i.e. social, spiritual, emotional, cognitive, language, motor).   Eventually I hope I to create ideas that respect my daughter’s development in all those different areas.  Right now, I am just learning and I can only concentrate on one or two at a time.

The theory respects the fact that learning is always happening.  There are big debates in Human Development about continuous learning versus learning that occurs in defined steps.  I believe both are important to keep in mind but when it comes to being intentional about day-to-day growth I stand firmly with the continuous folks.  The relief-inspiring thing about the ZPD is that one can jettison a lot of worries about developmental hurdles.  If I keep development goals in mind they play a role in my current decisions but I can toss any unrealistic expectations out the window.  The main focus becomes the small, incremental development occurring and there’s a lot of peace that comes with slow and steady development.

Ideally, there is always someone on the scaffolding, intentionally playing a part in the construction of the individual, until that just-developed part is strong enough to stand on it’s own and then the scaffolding moves up a little higher.  This guide, far from creating a child, is helping the child to build him/her self by offering knowledge, experiences, love and the chance to practice.  The richness and support of the environment offered by the guide can influence the direction and quality of the learning. (Please note that I said ‘can’…not ‘always does’).

The Zone of Proximal Development is also forgiving.   Rest assured that any principle I practice has to contain a wide allowance for error because I have to make quite a few mistakes in order to really understand something.  With the ZPD, I am wrong a lot because I’m constantly guessing as to what is or is not in the zone.  Listening to and watching the individual can give you clues as to when you’re working in the ZPD.  For my daughter, the learning in the zone usually engages her (and me because it’s fun to watch well-timed development happen) and she’s listening and excited at the prospect of a new responsibility.  Many times, if we’ve discovered something in the zone, my daughter will want to repeat the task or request more information or help.  It’s kind of a game though, because the nature of development is that it changes people so what worked really well one week might not work the same magic another week.  So I think creatively and adjust with either a similar experience at the same skill level or I respect that some learning has happened and I move up a little bit.  But the point is, with practice, I believe the teaching has the potential to become as beautiful and fluid as the development.

What do you think of Mr. Vygotsky’s theory?  Does it feel useful to you?  How have you experienced it’s application?  Personally, I’m really glad we met all those years ago in the Smith Family Living Center.  Thank you Lev, thank you.


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