Hurrah! We have made it to "Z" in our ABCs of SPED series! That's 26 posts full of need-to-know content from Access to...Zone of Proximal Development. It doesn't roll off the tongue, I know, but nevertheless it's important to celebrate the milestone.
You might be thinking, "Zone of promixal...what now?"
You didn't think I'd wrap up this series with a throw-away topic, did you?
Today we're discussing one of my favorite concepts in the study of how children learn.
The "Zone of Proximal Development," or ZPD, is a term coined by psychologist and pioneer Lev Vygotsky and it posits that a space exists between what a child can do currently and what a child cannot do currently-- what a child can do with support.
It's the space where a kid can ride a tricycle but can't yet ride a bike... but they CAN ride a bike with training wheels. We can think of this as one or two rungs above where a child can currently climb independently, but with a boost they can get there.
Here's an easy visual to help put this into perspective:
I always think about ZPD when I'm cooking something new. I can cook pasta all on my own, however, I CANNOT make my own pasta-- I don't know how to do it myself and if I tried right now it would be a flour-y, sticky, unedible mess. But if I get a recipe with instructions or an Italian grandmother to help (even better!), I feel confident that I could do it. And after a number of times of making my own pasta with support, I will likely be able to do it on my own.
Here's why this matters:
When we're looking at goals, we want to always ensure that the proposed goal is in the student's zone of proximal development. Goals in the child's ZPD are both appropriately challenging AND attainable.
I'm sure you've seen the consequences of setting goals outside of this zone! If a child's goals are too challenging, it can cause frustration and shut down. If a child's goals are not challenging enough, it can cause boredom and poor behavior.
Goals that are written in a child's zone of proximal development are challenging enough to provide a high level of engagement in the effort to meet the goal and a high level of pride when achieved.
So how do you make sure that your child's goals are in their Zone of Proximal Development?
As always, you look at the data!
If you have strong Present Levels and/or strong evaluation data, this will provide a starting point to build from.
Then consider the S.M.A.R.T. acronym-- what is a specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic/relevant and time-bound goal that makes sense given the data?
Then, after a goal is chosen, there should be continuous progress monitoring to determine whether the goal is actually appropriate. It is 100% okay to re-work a goals if it's obvious mid-year that the goal is too easy or too challenging!
This can be a fluid process, and it's certainly a worthwhile one.
At the end of the day, Zone of Proximal Development is one of those ideas that seems complex on the surface but is actually very intuitive. It's simply finding the "sweet spot" between what a student knows and what they don't, and directing your effort there.
Are you familiar with this term? Have any successes in this area? We'd love to hear about it! Share over on our IEP Guru Facebook page.