Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist, came up with the concept of the zone of proximal development. According to Vygotsky, a child is capable of picking up skills through interaction with people more skilled than he is. Vygotsky used the term zone of proximal development to refer to the difference between what a child is capable of doing on her own and what she can do with guidance from a more skilled adult or peer.
This theory has found use in schools. The zone of proximal development theory helps challenge a student to accomplish his full potential. As the student picks up more aspects of a particular learning goal, the role of the teacher diminishes, until the child is capable of performing the task on her own. Parents could also apply this theory in interacting with their children. There are some practical disadvantages to this theory.
In a school, there are many individual students with whom a teacher must interact. It is difficult for a teacher to gauge an individual level of development and apply a zone of proximal development that is suitable for each student. Both the student and the teacher need to be engaged deeply in an activity to benefit from the interaction. Again, the group setting may preclude this sort of individualised attention.
A teacher who engages in this theory must spend time developing a suitable lesson plan. This could be time consuming and not practical for the teacher. There are curriculum realities teachers must deal with. Using a zone of proximal development approach also calls for a teacher to give up some control of the situation to allow students to make mistakes. This will likely take up more time and not appeal to everyone.
There are also some benefits that educators find to this zone of proximal development theory. This approach encourages a student as she finds out that she is progressing in her learning. This is especially true if the student is engaged by a plan that is suitable to his level of development. Not only do children learn from adults, there is potential for children to learn from other children and keep each other engaged.