Psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed that children learn through interactions with their surrounding culture. This theory, known as the socio-cultural perspective, states that the cognitive development of children and adolescents is enhanced when they work in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD for short). To reach the ZPD, children need the help of adults or more competent individuals to support or scaffold them as they are learning new things.
According to Vygotsky’s theory, children can do more with the help and guidance of an adult or other person more experienced person than they can do by themselves. The Zone of Proximal Development defines skills and abilities that are in the process of developing. The ZPD is the range of tasks that one cannot yet perform independently, but can accomplish with the help of a more competent individual. For example, a child might not be able to walk across a balance beam on her own, but she can do so while holding her mother’s hand. Since children are always learning new things, the ZPD changes as new skills are acquired.
In the example above, the child’s mother provided assistance to the child. The mother acted as a scaffold in that situation. Scaffolding is the structure or guidance of a more experienced person. There are many different ways of scaffolding, including breaking the task down into smaller steps, providing motivation, and providing feedback about progress as the person progresses.
As time goes by, the adult will continually adjust the amount of support they give in response to the child’s level of performance. For example, as the child becomes more confident in her balance, her mother can go from holding both hands, to eventually holding one hand, and eventually she can stop holding her hand. The child will soon be able to walk unassisted. Therefore, scaffolding instills the skills necessary for independent problem solving in the future.
In conclusion, Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development states that interactions with other people are essential for maximum cognitive development to occur.