From: Natasha Artemeva (
Date: Thu Jun 16 2005 - 05:57:01 PDT

Dear XMCA participants:

In my work with both Russian and English versions of Vygotsky's texts I
have come across what appears to me to be two interpretations of the
zone of proximal development (see below). I would greatly appreciate
your views on this issue; that is, are there, in fact, two
interpretations, and am I correct in thinking that the second one is a

1. The following passage is based on my reading of the Russian texts and
the 1978 translation in the much criticized "Mind in Society." In fact,
the passage related to the ZPD is accurately translated in "Mind in

The concept of the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1935/2003a)
is based on the notions of the actual and potential levels of child
development. Vygotsky defined the actual developmental level of the
children as "the level of development of a child's mental functions that
has been established as a result of certain already completed
developmental cycles" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 85). This actual developmental
level is determined by the difficulty of the tasks that children are
able to complete alone. Vygotsky observed that with the help of an adult
or a more capable peer, the same children were able to solve tasks that
only older children could solve alone. On the basis of these
observations, Vygotsky suggested that instead of using the actual
developmental level as a determinant of a child's mental development,
one should use the potential level, determined by the difficulty of the
tasks the child can solve in collaboration with an adult or a more
capable peer. In other words, he defined the zone of proximal
development as "the distance between the actual developmental level as
determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential
development as determined through the problem solving under adult
guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978,
p. 86; 1935/2003a, p. 379). Vygotsky claims that "the actual
developmental level characterizes the success of [the child's]
development, the result of [the child's] development as of yesterday,
while the zone of proximal development characterizes [her] mental
development as of tomorrow" (1935/2003a, p. 379). That is, "the state of
the child's mental development can be determined only by clarifying its
two levels: the actual developmental level and the zone of proximal
development" (1978, p. 87). From this perspective, the ZPD is a quality
of a child, and the individual cognitive change is seen as effected by
the social.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher
psychological processes. M. Cole, John-Steiner, V., S. Scribner, & E.
Souberman (Eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (2003a). Umstvennoe razvitie detey v procese obuchenia
[Mental development of children during education]. In L.S. Vygotsky,
Psikhologia razvitia rebenka [Psychological development of a child]. (In
Russian). (pp. 327-505). Moscow: EKSMO. (Original work published in 1935).

Some North American authors have developed a different perspective on
the ZPD. Instead of a difference between a child's developmental levels
as demonstrated by the child's ability to solve problems of different
difficulty alone and in collaboration with an adult or a more capable
peer, they have interpreted the ZPD as a difference in the difficulty of
tasks a child can perform alone and in collaboration (cf. Russell
[2002], Ryle [1999]; see critique of this perspective by Gredler and
Shields [2004]).

Gredler, M. & Shields, C. (2004). Does no one read Vygotsky's words?
Commentary on Glassman. Educational Researcher 33(2), 21-25.
Russell, D. R. (2002). Looking beyond the interface: Activity theory and
distributed learning. In M. R. Lea, & K. Nicoll (Eds.), Distributed
Learning: Social and cultural approaches to practice (pp. 64 - 82).
London: Routledge Falmer.
Ryle, A. (1999). Object relations theory and activity theory: A proposed
link by way of the procedural sequence model. In Y. Engestro"m, R.
Miettinen, & R.-L. Punama"ki (Eds.) Perspectives on Activity Theory.
(pp. 407-418). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Natasha Artemeva

Assistant Professor School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Carleton University 1125 Colonel By Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6

Tel.+1 (613) 520-2600 ext.7452 Fax +1 (613) 520-6641 E-mail:

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