Sunday 19 October 2014

Zone of Proximal Development

As I enter my fourth week of my Masters it's a fun time to reminisce about my first Psychology Degree.  

My thesis is still on my bookshelf - lovingly typed by my Mum (on a word processor!) it looks superb.  

The title of the thesis? Influence of Adult Tutoring on Children's Route Planning Strategies.  Now this might not sound like the most enthralling topic but bear with me - I do have a point.

Lev Vygotsky & The Zone

One of my heroes at the time was a psychologist called Lev Vygotsky who described something called the Zone of Proximal Development. He described the Zone as:
"the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers"
Or to put it another way - it's the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. 

My research involved working with children between 8 and 9 years old and their parents.

I divided the children into two groups.  Both groups of children completed a final task (without any help from their parents) which involved planning a route around a basic map of a small village to drop their friends off after a party. They had to draw the route directly onto the map. 

Here is the map they used (of course - drawn by me!).  You can just about see the route drawn by one of the subjects of the study.

Before this final task they had worked on a task with their parents. One Group worked on a task that was similar to the final route planning task, it involved planning a route around a supermarket based upon a shopping list. The second Group worked on a task which was unrelated to the final task. It involved sorting pictures of objects into different categories. 

So..what did I find when I analysed the final task?  The children who had practised route planning with their parents used a greater number of one step moves and also marked the locations they had to visit on the map before they began.  The children who had completed a unrelated task used no such strategies and paused a significantly greater number of times.

The tutoring from their parents had caused them to develop new strategies which they used in the final task.  

Vygotsky also found this effect when children worked and played with peers.

I wouldn't limit this effect to learning in childhood.

Two Questions
How aware are you of what there is to learn from each situation you are placed in during your daily life? How often do you stop to consider what you have learned?

As I re-enter full time education I am struck by the rich source of learning from my fellow students and I am grateful for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and views.



PS A final shocker for me is that the children I worked with will now be in their early 30s - I wonder how good they are at route planning now?!

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