Teachers across the world do often ponder what kind of instruction is optimal for a child. This is something that has puzzled developmental psychologists since a century.

The relationship between specific subject-matter instruction and its consequences for psychological development was a problem that development psychologist Lev Vygotsky (circa 1930s) sought to address and came with an innovative concept called “zone of proximal development.”

This concept construes that through the assistance of a more competent person, a learner will be able to gather skills that are more than his/her actual developmental abilities.  At a minimum level, a learner will be able to reach the level of proficiency possible to accomplish independently.  However, the learner will be able to reach a much higher level of proficiency with the assistance of a competent instructor.

In the 1950s, Jerome Bruner came up with the concept “instructional scaffolding,” wherein the learners will be provided scaffold/support initially and gradually it will be withdrawn, resulting in learners mastering the goals at a level greater than what would have been possible without support.  The teachers foster patterns of talk that scaffold students to explore new ideas, learn things and move on to a new “zone of proximal development.”

The zone of proximal development graph[1] is as illustrated below:


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