Saturday, June 7, 2008

for the record re. ZPD

I am a bit leery about authors who talk of the ZPD concept as if it is merely a fancy word for scaffolding. The book I'm on at the moment does this and it's unnerving. It's as if the author has read a single use of the term and latched onto it with no further thought.
The whole thrust of ZPD from my limited reading of it is that it essentially is all about the necessity of social interaction in learning.
Gordon Wells (1999) [Dialogic inquiry. New York: Cambridge University Press] says:
zone of proximal development is not an attribute of the individual learner but rather a potential for his or her intra-mental development that is created by the inter-mental interaction that occurs as the learner and other people cooperate in some activity.
... the concept itself has too often been viewed in a rather limited way that emphasizes the interpersonal at the expense of the individual and cultural-historical levels and treats the concept in a unidirectional fashion. As if the concept were synonymous with "scaffolding," too many authors have focused on the role of the more competent other, particularly the teacher, whose role is to provide assistance just in advance of the child's current thinking. The concept thus had become equated with what sensitive teachers might do with their children, and has lost much of the complexity with which it was imbued by Vygotsky, missing both what the child brings to the interaction and the broader (cultural and historical) setting in which the interaction takes place. For example this interpretation misses entirely Vygotsky's position that developments in a child's life are akin to historical developments in societies (related to Marx's thesis that humans have an underdeveloped potential that can only be released after the structural reorganization of society).
Tudge J and Scrimsher S (2003) Lev S Vygotsky. In: Zimmerman, B J and Schunk, D H (eds.) Educational psychology: a century of contributions. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Compare this with:

A learner may have learned to learn, but only if he or she avoids straying too far from his or her zone of proximal development. (p121)
"The Case for Guidance" (section head) Vygotsky (1978) suggests that learners have a zone of proximal development, outside their current spheres of knowledge, but not so far out that it is entirely disconnected and unattainable. Learning how to ride a motorbike is made easier if one already knowls how to ride a push-bike, even simpler if one can also drive a car. If the near but unknown can be glimpsed, then it can be reached with little or no assistance. The problem is that, without a guide, the seeker of knowledge may forever wander aroudn the foothills without ever seeing the mountain. An advantage of a teacher structured sequence is that the teacher is (hopefully) aware of the bigger picture and of the constraints inherent in the subject matter itself. Without an overview of the ultimate levels of performance expected, a sub-optimal standard may be achieved. (p51)
ZPD: [glossary entry] Zone of proximal development: Vygotskian concept, loosely speaking the current scope for learning something new beyond which it gets too confusing or difficult. (p334)
Issues with IM (instant messaging) [section head] IM is great for collaborative problem solving, for allowing learners to delegate control to another at any time, but sometimes, the problems go beyond the learners' zones of proximal development. Consequently, if tutors are available by the same means, this can be a great boon to learners. (p201)
[talking about 'collaborative generation of sequence... in self-organising learning environments'] the second of two highlighted 'weaknesses to this approach...' is 'Learners are inevitably imprisoned within Vygotsky's zones of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). A human teacher can view a subject from further back to see the place of a particular piece of knowledge within a larger whole. Learners who are limited to what they do not know are, of necessity, unable to see the whole plot (or they would be knower, not learners) (p298)
If I were an especially autonomous learner whose ZPD were close enough to my goal already, or if I were just particularly determined to succeed, then perhaps I would have pulled out a manual and bashed at it until I began to understand the problem. (p320)
I dont know what to make of this. It's a good book and I have a lot of sympathy with most of theory which seems well founded to me. Even the use of ZPD is not 'crime of the century' and the arguements which are made and which are supported by the author's use of ZPD are fair enough points. It's just that it sticks in the throat a bit when you see a powerful and complex concept getting cheapened.

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