hint: because they don’t have to get IRB approval.
Some people spend Thanksgiving weekend in a tryptophanic daze. Some people spend it in a Black Friday frenzy, followed by a Cyber Monday mania.
I spent Thanksgiving weekend testing out my niece’s Zone of Proximal Development.
The Zone of Proximal Development, or zpd (or zo-ped), is a concept developed by the Russian learning theorist LS Vygotsky. In brief, the zpd is the distance between what a child is developmentally capable of doing on her own and what she can do with assistance.
Here’s an example. My niece, Morgan, who’s 15 months old, was playing with a plastic carrot and a square of fabric. Her grandma suggested she could make a hot dog out of these two items! Which she immediately wanted to do! Except that she couldn’t quite figure out how to do it:
So Grandma stepped in and helped Morgan’s hands make the fabric roll around the carrot:
The next day, Grandma gave Morgan the carrot and the fabric and said “Can you roll the carrot up?” And Morgan did it, all by herself!
The Zone of Proximal Development: Morgan knew she could make a hot dog out of a plastic carrot and a square of fabric, but her little hands didn’t know how to do it. The distance between that and her grandma helping her make the hot dog: That’s the zpd. That’s where all learning happens, according to Vygotsky: What Morgan could do with assistance on Saturday she was able to do by herself on Sunday.
This is a powerful idea, in case you were wondering, because it directly contradicted the prevailing wisdom of the time. Whereas other theorists assumed that development came before learning (that a child has to be developmentally capable of doing something new before being able to learn it), Vygotsky argued that learning comes before development (that a child has to be given an opportunity to do something new, with assistance, before she can be developmentally capable of doing it on her own).
Here’s another example: I taught Morgan to say “pie.” I showed her the pumpkin pie and said, “Morgan, oooooh! This is pie! Ooooooh! Can you say ‘pie’?” And I did it enough times that she figured she’d better just say ‘pie’ so I’d stop shoving it in her face and give her a piece. So eventually, I held the pie out and said, “Morgan, what’s this?” And she would say “pie.” (Actually, it came out sounding more like “puhayyyhhhhhhh.”)
So far so good. Except then I wanted to see if she really knew what pie was. So I did this:
Me: *holds lemon meringue pie* Morgan, what’s this?
Me: That’s right! It’s pie! *holds empty paper plate* What’s this?
Me: *points to Grandma* Morgan, who’s this?
So that was awesome.