Catchy subject line! Here's something from Gordon Wells book (pp. 24-25) that may be useful in this discussion.
The first thing to note is that, although Vygotsky enunciated the concept [of zoped] in relation to the assessment and instruction of school age children, it is clear that he considered the principles on which it is based to be of very general relevance. Thus, in more recent work, it has been applied both to adult learning (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988; Wells, 1993b; this volume Chapter 9) and also to children's learning before the years of schooling (Rogoff and Wertsch, 1984). In fact, in his explanation of the concept of the zpd, Vygotsky proposed that this form of assisted learning should be treated as a general developmental law: "We propose that an essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers" (1978, p. 90).
A significant feature of this formulation is that it makes clear that the zone of proximal development is not an attribute of the individual learner but rather a potential for his or her intra-mental development that is created by the inter-mental interaction that occurs as the learner and other people cooperate in some activity. It is important to ask, therefore, what conditions must be met if this interaction is to enable the potential for development to be realized.
One criterion that Vygotsky emphasized was that it should take the form of assistance that enables the learner to achieve, in collaboration with another, what he or she is as yet unable to achieve alone. Hence Vygotsky's formula that "the only 'good learning' is that which is in advance of development" (1978, p. 89). But not arbitrarily so, for the upper limits are set by the learner's state of development and intellectual potential (1987, p. 209). A second criterion that Vygotsky emphasized was that the assistance should be relevant to the learner's own purposes. Taking the example of children learning to write, he argued that, if the teaching is to be effective, the activity to which it is addressed should be perceived as meaningful, satisfying an intrinsic need in the learner, and "incorporated into a task that is necessary and relevant for life" (1978, p. 118).
Taking these three aspects of Vygotsky's mature theorizing as a whole, we can see that, as Bruner (1987) remarked in his Prologue to Thinking and Speech, it is, at one and the same time, a theory of development, of cultural transmission, and also of education. Furthermore, far from having been superseded by more recent developments, the framework that his theory provides is still proving productive for present-day theorizing and research in all these fields.
Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic inquiry. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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