March/April 2006 | Volume 1 | Number 2 |
In Theory

Zone of Proximal Development- Gardening In the Zone



I am writing this post on a legal pad as I listen to my daughters 5 th violin lesson. I am taken back to when I first started to learn to play trumpet. In fact, I find myself reflecting on many learning experiences: figure skating, fly fishing, riding a bike, driving a car, learning to cook. Some would argue that I never accomplished the latter.

In each of these cases and many others, there were periods where I received “expert help” and times when I “went it alone”. The hundreds of hours of lessons pale in comparison with the thousands of hours spent on practice ice and in practice rooms. The struggle of individual practice combined with expert help defined these learning experiences.


It was years later that I really began to understand this process. Each time I attempted a triple flip or triple lutz and ended up sitting on the ice was a learning experience that was occurring within what Lev Vygotsky called “the zone of proximal development” or ZPD.

Vygotsky believed that learning and understanding are maximized when the learner is working just beyond their ZPD or the area just beyond what the learner could accomplish by themselves. ZPD is the difference between what a learner can accomplish on their own and what they can accomplish with more expert help. It is the “careful struggle” or what Papert would call “hard fun” that leads to learning.

This short Quick-Time video serves as a metaphor for ZPD. Through the wonder of “magic”, I give you “Gardening In the Zone”. As you watch this 1 minute silent movie, I challenge you to reflect on how ZPD relates to your learning experiences. How can an understanding of ZPD help improve teaching practice? As you watch, consider the process of scaffolding that exists when “working in the zone”. Consider “who is doing the work”.

Now sit back and enjoy…Gardening in the Zone

Transcript for Gardening in the Zone

ZPD- The Zone of Proximal Development


The Art of Gardening in the Zone

ZPD is the difference between what can be done “solo” and what can be accomplished with “more” expert help…

Plant a rose. Add fertilizer, water and it will grow.

Left to its own development, it will grow into a bush with small flowers.

If pruned and given guidance, it can be trained and will have many large flowers.

This means removing branches that are growing the wrong direction.

Training a rose to grow up a trellis requires pruning along the advancing branches much line training just beyond ZPD.

The pruning is periodic symbolic of the times when you are working by yourself and when you are getting “expert” help.

When a rose is mature and well trimmed, it will continue to grow and produce beautiful flowers.

There will be periodic setbacks but additional pruning will keep the rose healthy.