The Hack of ZPD

Let me begin with two questions.

What is learning?

What kind of instruction is optimal for a particular child?

Without doubt, such questions are immediately comprehensible to any committed teacher in virtually any country in the world, and most of them are likely to want concrete answers to the question, not only as a theoretical puzzle, but in relation to their immediate practices. If one were to look to scientific psychology and educational research for advice in relation to this practical problem, what would the answer(s) look like?

This simple question raises several profound problems. Normative and political issues about the goals of instruction and the resources available for realizing these goals must be resolved. A theory of learning is needed that can explain how intellectual capabilities are developed.

Can we come up with a vision or a platform where dialogue, diversity and collaboration become the driving principles to let a child explore his deep aptitudes as much as s/he can.

If not can we help educate parents to let them know about the ZPD (Zone of proximal development) process. I have been a fan of Lev Vygotsky’s ZPD process for a while now. I have used it to teach myself and experiment this with my parents and family in helping them to learn something with their skill-set at their current level along with the principles of Behavior Design and Gamification.

In a classroom of 30 students, each student has a learning pace and style that is most appropriate for him or her, yet differentiating instruction for all 30 can be a formidable challenge. At the same time, we also know that teaching without taking into account what students already understand and what they still
need to work on is ineffective.

ZPDPsychologist Lev Vygotsky coined this term in the 20th century to describe the sweet spot where instruction is most beneficial for each student – just beyond his or her current level of independent capability.

His work being in Russian was one of the major reasons it took a long time for others to know until it got translated into other languages. This was later took further and using scaffolding, it was applied and was found that with the aid of appropriate scaffolding, students can gain skills and knowledge by completing tasks (with assistance as needed) until they are eventually able to complete them independently.

“the aim of scaffolding is the ultimate transfer of responsibility for the task to the child as adult support decreases and child capability increases”

The common thread between formative assessment practices and the practice of identifying and teaching within the ZPD is the idea that in order for teaching and learning to be effective, instruction should focus on skills and knowledge that are attainable for students (not too easy, not too difficult, but just right). With constant feedback, or scaffolding, we know that students’ learning and understanding
can continue to develop at an appropriate pace.

When I first read more about this, it became clear to me that this is again Behavior Design in essence.

What if we could apply this to our school systems and take away grading completely and include teachers in the learning process as learners and teachers. Now wouldn’t that environment be organic and the learning holistic?

Of course, the learning curves can be amplified further once the learning becomes fun using other technologies that can speed up learning as per each learner’s desire. Learning that’s fun gets done. One can ask, what might the benefits be of such a model.

Here something that I came up with:

Students can be provided with:

  • challenging but reasonable tasks that stimulate thinking and motivate efforts to learn
  • meaningful instruction and feedback that helps drive further development at an appropriate pace
  • a learning environment where they are valued as individuals, a collaborative
    group, and a class
  • a learning environment where their creativity and thought processes are
    acknowledged and accepted

Teachers could:

  • identify and use areas of strength and weakness to tailor learning experiences at the individual and group level
  • engage students in social interactions to enable learning
  • better understand students as individual learners, learners in a small group
    setting and learners in a larger social setting
  • discover unique thought processes that different students may use to solve
    problems

The Administration could:

  • promote higher quality differentiated instruction in schools or let self designed learning drive the administration rules which can be flexed with some order in it.
  • emphasize better teacher student relationships
  • work with more motivated teachers and students

How can I locate and teach in the ZPD?

Here are some questions one can ask ? I have placed small wins that can be used to tailor the material and generate insights.

  1. Do I know what I want my students to understand by the end of this unit?

    ZPD Small Win – Identify the target level of knowledge and
    understanding you want your students to attain (e.g. for the year, a specific unit or a specific concept). Chunk it down, prepare a trail of breadcrumbs.

  2. Do I have an idea of the skills and knowledge that students must have in order to reach this level of understanding?

    ZPD Small Win – Work backwards from the end‐of‐unit goal(s).
    Ask yourself: “What needs to be understood before this goal can be reached?” Develop a model of the learning progression that you
    expect students to follow in order to attain the targeted knowledge and understanding

  3. Do the tasks and activities I have created help me see what my students
    understand and what they still need to work on?

    ZPD Small Win – Create tasks, activities and problems that allow
    you to gather information about students’ understanding of the topic at hand while they are learning.

  4. Am I observing, assessing, and listening to my students in order to understand the thought processes they are using to arrive at their
    answers?

    ZPD Small Win – Observe, assess, and listen to student behaviors
    and inquiries in response to the topic. Frequent assessments, whether formal or informal, allow patterns of strengths and weaknesses to
    emerge both at the individual and group level. This will help you identify students’ ZPDs.
    This can help collect a set of data points out of which consistent patterns will start to emerge over time which can be leveraged later.

  5. Am I adjusting my instruction based on what I see my students have
    grasped and what they still need to work on?

    ZPD Small Win: Modify instruction, activities and groups based on information you gather about what your students can do independently, what they can do with peers, and what they are struggling with overall.

  6. Am I providing feed forwards that uses students’ strengths to build on their weaknesses?

    ZPD Small Win: Work with small groups and individual students. Push their thinking by asking guiding questions, modeling and providing demonstrations as necessary.

    Research has shown that interactions between a child and a more competent peer or adult in which everyone is actively engaged tend to produce higher student achievement. And even if assessments are made they should be made so that the teacher gains instructionally valuable information about students’ independent thinking. + I’m curious to see what would result if a ZPD learning system like this is taken outside the classrooms and then seeing if the learning is much more accelerated or not. 🙂

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