Rethinking Vygotzky

Lev Vygotzky’s Zone of Proximal Development has become an easy reference in my university assignments over the past two years. However, I have never critically examined this theory or thought about what factors may make this theory redundant.

Vygotzky’s Zone of Proximal Development is defined as “the gap between what a learner can accomplish independently and what she can accomplish with the guidance and encouragement of a more skilled partner” (Rider and Sigelman, p.210, 2009). My initial thoughts when I first came across this theory were along the lines of “that makes perfect sense” and I didn’t think about it in any more depth or question it. It didn’t help at the time that my lecturers and tutors were telling me that this was correct and we must remember it. However, now looking back on it and being asked to critically reflect on it, I still see some aspect of truth behind this theory based on my experiences in classrooms during Professional Experience placements.

(This YouTube video gives a quick explanation of Vygotzky’s Zone of Proximal Development.)

Reading that definition from Rider and Sigelman through again and again, it comes to my attention that as I read and comprehend it I am using all the knowledge I have gained from previous courses and experiences to fill in the blanks and I am doing this without a conscious thought. This means if I am automatically doing that when I read it, everyone else who reads it is also using their prior knowledge and previous experiences to fill in the blanks. As this is most probably the case, every person’s understanding will then be different because everyone’s schema (see previous post) will be different.

Taking this into account, if I go back and read the definition yet again and start questioning what I am reading, I can see that I am now aware of issues that can occur with this theory. Such as, the more skilled partner needs to only guide and encourage in a way that the learner is then essentially doing all the work but is not getting caught on any snags because the more skilled partner is there; also if the more skilled partner is not aware of the learner’s understandings or misconceptions, then the experience will often not be effective and may make the learner more confused. Donald Clark is a blogger who does not believe in any social constructivist theories, even Vygotzky’s Zone of Proximal Development. He believes:

Teaching, or peer mediation, is not a necessary condition for learning. A great deal is made of social performance being ahead of individual performance in the ZPD but there is no real evidence that this is the case.

Rethinking through this critical reflection I see that Vygotzky’s Zone of Proximal Development is a good theory to understand but it doesn’t necessarily need to be used. As Donald Clark writes in his blog, Vygotzky’s theory made way for others such as scaffolding which is a useful concept to understand when teaching in a classroom.


Rider, E. & Sigelman, C. (2009). Life-Span Human Development (6th ed.). Cengage Learning: USA.

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