Family & Parenting Guide

Understanding the basics of the zone of proximal development

Your child already knows addition and you are teaching him/her subtraction. After a few steps, your child learns to work on subtraction independently. By doing this, you have unknowingly used a concept called zone of proximal development to understand your child’s potential.


The zone of proximal development is a collaborative approach to understanding the difference between what an individual can do independently as opposed to what he/she can do with some educational support and guidance. This concept can be used to teach learners (in this case, children) very effectively.

However, in order to apply the concept effectively, one would need to locate the learner’s zone of proximal development.


Parents and teachers can ask questions as well as observe their children to understand their unique learning styles. Following this, they can categorize the latter’s skills into those that he/she can do alone, cannot do alone or can do with some help. This would allow one to keep track of the child’s current learning needs based on what he/she has already learnt and would possibly learn in the future.

Collecting this information, one can then identify the learner’s specific stage out of the four stages in the zone of proximal development. These include stage one where one is helped by others to perform a task, stage two where one aids himself/herself, stage three where one internalizes the approach to completing a task and stage four where one undergoes deautomization to move back to the previous stages for a new task.

The zone of proximal development in the leaner is the applied via small instructional steps from mentors who would offer support until the learner is able to finish the task independently. This can be achieved via the following steps.

Step 1: New lessons and ideas need to be developed based on the learner’s prior knowledge (what he/she already knows). For instance, the teacher would need to build a student’s knowledge by introducing new concepts that the student would need to know by the end of the class. Appropriate guidance needs to be given while teaching these new concepts.

Step 2: After learning the new concepts, the learner would have to be taught how to connect this with the concepts he/she already knows. For instance, teachers can teach the concept of division to their students and then relate it back to multiplication, which was taught earlier. This way, the teacher would be teaching a new concept and relating it to a concept the student already knows so that the latter can understand the new concept better with assistance from prior knowledge.


The zone of proximal development deals with understanding the difference between what a learner can do independently and what he/she can do with assistance. Teachers can use this concept to gauge students’ learning capabilities as well as teach them to relate new concepts with those that they already know for assistance in understanding the former.

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Dr Prem is an award winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has traveled to more than 40 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert training and consultancy services to more than 150 international organizations. He also owns and leads a web services and technology business, supervised and managed by his eminent team. Dr Prem further takes great delight in travel photography.

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