Friday, January 31, 2014

The ZPD is different to scaffolding, different enough to matter

This post will (may) grow over time but for now I just need to dump some quotes and resources in a place where I can find them again and point 'someone who wants to know more' at with relative ease.

I have found that LS Vygotsky's concept, the Zone of Proximal Development is confused with the concept of scaffolding. Some are prepared to openly assert and strenuously defend the position that scaffolding is Vygotsky's concept. In my reading, it is not. Does this really matter? In my sense of things, yes it does and here's an idea of why... Thankfully, both questions are answered lucidly by Seth Chaklin: here are some extended quotes from a chapter of his from 2003:
I also want to highlight and recommend the paper by Verenikina (2003)... in which she points out, citing Stone (1998), that metaphors, such as 'scaffolding', have the capacity to augment understanding but also to constrain it. That, is a problem. Here we go with Seth anyway:

"Popularity has its price, however. Wertsch (1984) suggested that if this theoretical construct was not elaborated further, then there is a risk that "it will be used loosely and indiscriminately, thereby becoming so amorphous that it loses all explanatory power" (p.7). Mercer and Fisher (1992) believe that "there is a danger that the term is used as little more than a fashionable alternative to Piagetian terminology or the concept of IQ for describing individual differences in attainment or potential" (p. 342). Palinscar (1998) suggests that in the context of research about the negotiated nature of teaching and learning it is "probably one of the most used and least understood constructs to appear in contemporary educational literature" (p.370).
Critique of the common conception:
"If Vygotsky's intention was to use the concept for all kinds of learning, then why not name it the zone of proximal learning?" p40
"Vygotsky..., concluding that there is a unity but not an identity between learning and inner developmental processes. Vygotsky (1987) disctinguishes instruction aimed "toward [the child's] full development from instruction in specialized, technical skills such as typing or riding a bicycle" (p.212). In short, zone of proximal development is not concerned with the development of skill of any particular task, but must be related to development." p40
Assistance assumption
"In other words, it is not the competence per se of the more knowledgeable person that is important; rather, it is to understand the meaning of that assistance in relation to a child's learning and development." p43
p57: "In relation to the school age, the theoretical function of Vygotsky's zone of Proximal development research can be understood as a search for identifying a principled way for conceptualising schooling in relation to the whole child and not just the child's performance on a single task" (as with IQ)
p57 " The zone of proximal development is not simply a way to refer to development through assistance by a more competent other. This assistance is meaningful only in relation to maturing functions needed for transition to the next age period".
p59 most work that refers to zone of proximal development does not have such a developmental theory, even implicitly.
Why not imitation, assisted instruction, or collaboration? Is it because neither of these terms hold the same scientistic mystique necessary to attain the desired level of rhetorical capital needed so as to bolster their argument?

Chaklin, S. (2003). The Zone of Proximal Development in Vygotsky’s Analysis of Learning and Instruction. In A. Kozulin (Ed.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press.
Stone, C. (1998). The metaphor of scaffolding: its utility for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(4), 344–364.
Verenikina, I. (2003). Understanding scaffolding and the ZPD in educational research. PDF file. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from

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