A colleague of mine invited me to contribute a chapter to a book he’s putting together. Over the summer I completed the draft chapter, which I call Zones of Proximal Development: Mundane and Magical. I share a paragraph from the beginning pages and another from the ending pages. (You’ll have to read the chapter when it comes out to fill in the middle. I hope it won’t be years until publication!)
Excerpt from the beginning
If the concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is familiar to you, chances are you associate it with scaffolding or other ways of supporting someone learning something through the assistance of another person who has expertise in that something. You’re likely to understand successful educational practices to be ones in which a more capable “other” guides someone less capable through a learning process in which the interaction between the more and less capable is of utmost importance. And that such interaction is premised on knowing the difference (the ZPD) between what the less capable can do “alone” and with help. This is, more or less, the way the ZPD is described in textbooks and the vast majority of research studies.
The ZPD has been framed by educationalists and psychologists as a phenomenon to explain and ultimately support learning. The way I figure it is this: if Vygotsky had meant the ZPD to be a feature solely of learning, he would have called it a ZPL (zone of proximal learning). But he didn’t. He coined the phrase zone of proximal development. And he did so because what interested him was development, specifically, the process of children’s psychological development. Learning as a thing in itself wasn’t of interest, but learning in its relationship to development fascinated him.
Excerpt from the ending
My story of a more radical, complex and broadly practical ZPD—an activity rather than a zone, what people create together rather than a characteristic of individuals, a way to understand learning and development rather than learning, a wondrous example of human mundane creativity and the magic of non-knowing growing—has been a difficult one to tell. This is because it’s a story in which continuous process is the main character, performing on a world stage of products. In such a world, simultaneity is hard to see and experience, and dialectics is nearly impossible to grok. I’ve used invented terms, such as tool-and-result, learning-leading-development, being who we are-not who we are, and speaking-completing-thinking, as shorthands for the simultaneity and dialectical unity of process and product. But the use of language to reflect reality fails in this case, as it always does.