During my Masters program, I had the fortune of doing some in-depth study of the work of Lev Vygotsky, particularly in the area of the Zone of Proximal Development. What I wanted to share today was a lesson that myself and my peers developed for teaching the concept to other Master of Education students in our class. It was well received, and I thought others might benefit from it as well.
We started the lesson with an overview of Lev Vygotsky and his life, including the development of his theory. We had the voice of Lev narrated by another student who is a professional voice actor, and animated Lev’s face to narrate his own life using the app Photospeak, which is a blast to work with. What we really liked about this part of the presentation, is that there really was a sense of the ‘history’ of Lev’s work in the presentation with his photo ‘talking’ to the audience.
Once the group had an overview of Lev and his history, We wanted to create some activities to highlight the idea of ZPD. My portion was a hands-on activity in whichI discussed with my students the familiar game ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ We discussed that this was a common game that most people in our culture understand. I added that we were going to expand on their understanding by adding new options to the game. I showed the group this ‘instructional video’ with the basic rules.
One of the groups asked to see the video several times, and with each group I rehearsed the new learning by showing each of the options and asking the group which other option ‘beats’ it. After this rehearsal, I had each member of the group practice the new moves to ensure they were clearly shown, and then played a tournament to see who our ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock’ champion was. It took only a couple of rounds of hesitation before the new moves became fairly well incorporated in the game and the new learning was comfortable for the students.
Once we moved back to the classroom and we were able to debrief, I showed this image to the class and described that the linking to a common understanding (the initial game) was key to Vygotsky’s concept, and that the initial discomfort the groups felt as they watched the video and started to practice the new game was the zone of proximal development. I knew learning was successful for the group once they lost that initial hesitation and were able to complete the tournament.
We have to remember that learning is generally not a comfortable process, and is often downright frightening for students. If we are not linking and rehearsing new concepts, students may not even be willing to attempt the new learning. It is our approach as teachers, and our ability to scaffold students to the zone of proximal development that makes all the difference to learning.
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