From: Ageliki Nicolopoulou (
Date: Thu Jun 16 2005 - 06:44:27 PDT

In my opinion, that is correct! I have been drawing this distinction in
my teaching now for awhile and I have meant to put it in writing but I
have never managed to do that. (Gordon Wells has also made this point
and has put it in writing.) It seems to me that there are important
implications in these two different interpretations.

Ageliki Nicolopoulou

Ageliki Nicolopoulou
Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director
Department of Psychology, Lehigh University
17 Memorial Drive East
Bethlehem, PA  18015-3068

Tel: 610-758-3618 (office) 610-525-4330 (home)

Personal Webpage: Departmental Webpage: Graduate Program:


Natasha Artemeva wrote:

> 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 > misinterpretation?: > > 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 Society." > > 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). > > 2. > 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. >

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