Towards a useful conception of the ZPD for language education

Proceedings of The 2nd International Conference on Advanced Research in Teaching and Education

Year: 2019


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Towards a useful conception of the ZPD for language education

Richard S. Lavin



The term zone of proximal development (ZPD), based on the writings of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, often appears in language learning research conducted within a socioculturaltheoretic (SCT) framework, yet often it is simply invoked or is used in ways that are radically different from the Vygotsky project without any justification. These include linking the ZPD to the concept of scaffolding, and even claiming that that linkage originated with Vygotsky, again without justification. In this paper, I suggest that it is acceptable to make quite radical adaptations to a theoretical framework that is now almost a century old, but that these should be made with respect towards the historical roots of the theoretical framework, that these modifications need to be acknowledged for what they are, and should be given explicit justification. Specifically, I suggest that the spatial metaphor implied by the ZPD should be made explicit and that we should think flexibly about its structure, with a view to manipulating it in order to generate predictions. This is part of a process of reification, an approach favoured by western scholarship whereby abstract processes are reconceived as concrete entities to enable freer manipulation of concepts and the drawing of links to other concepts for theory construction. In addition, I argue that adult additional language development, despite being different in many ways from children’s maturation, has enough similarities to justify the appropriation of the ZPD for its description, especially since it is the only available framework that tracks non-latent development.

Keywords:language development; Lev Vygotsky; scaffolding; sociocultural theory; spatial metaphor.