If there is one thing that binds all our readings together, it is the goal of improving our educational system for the benefit of our student and their future. Despite the debates actively taking place and the battles educational institutions are fighting for, there remains a consensus, a middle ground where all can meet and be in agreement. And that is the drive towards developing our children into the best individuals they can possibly be, ready to take on bigger and more challenging roles in the future.
This development starts the moment life breathes into a child. This continues as he or she grows and matures. But we do not expect all children to develop at the same time, in the same manner, at the same pace, because as Tanner (1978) pointed out, children possess a “tempo of growth,” meaning, some “play out their growth andante, others allegro, a few lentissimo” (cited in Hetherington and Parke, 1993, p. 90).
This fact led me to assess what theorist Vygotsky termed as “zone of proximal development” or ZPD in the playground and in my host teacher’s classroom to explore the “distance between the actual development level” of students as determined by their “independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined” by their “problem solving under adult supervision or in collaboration with more capable peers” (cited in Thomas, 2000, pp. 308-309). Since Vygotsky focused on cognitive and mental development in exploring children’s ZPD, my research will explore the physical signs of development by which students manifest ZPD.
My observation started with kids in the playground. I watched as a group of children played – chasing each other, climbing poles, taking slides, swinging and running around, jumping in ropes, and exhibiting tons of energy. I noticed their bodies are small and fragile, yet they are very strong and eager to engage in active and tireless play. I picked two kids to talk to; one was a nine-year old boy, 4’9” tall and 110 lbs. heavy, and the other was a girl about the same age, 4’7” in height and appears relatively thin for her age. Both are actively engaged in playing with their friends, but differ in backgrounds, maturity, and level of reasoning and thinking.
The girl came from humble roots, with only a relative to take care of her. I noticed a level of sincerity, maturity, and truthfulness for her age. She said she prefers studying more than playing because she regards education as a stepping stone to fulfill her dream of improving her family’s life. On the other hand, the boy came from an affluent family. As I was talking to him, I noticed that his mind was not in our conversation, as he continuously gazed at his playmates showing uninterested to my queries. He claimed he prefers playing than studying because he usually achieves the fun he wants in the playground and not in the classroom.
My journey in exploring children’s ZPD led me to my host teacher’s class in Laggard High School. Before the first period, Earth Science, I was introduced to the class and the students welcomed me with subtle smiles and greetings. I immediately took note of their different body structures that ranged from thin to big, but majority were of the normal structure for their age. My host teacher started the discussion with a recap of the previous lesson. This was her strategy to get students’ attention, at the same time, gauge the memory and knowledge of her students.
She connected the previous topic with the lesson for the day for them to easily follow the discussion and thus, a smooth transition of topics. The students cooperated as they listened attentively to what she was saying. However, she disliked this silence because she wants her students to participate in the discussion by actively reciting or raising a question or clarification. Thus, she encouraged them to raise their hand if they think and feel like they cannot follow what she was saying or they simply want to add or say something to the class. And so some students started raising their hands and stood up. One student seated at the back waved at her and asked her to repeat what she just said because this student did not hear clearly what the teacher said; another persistently raised her hand and called out to her, supplementing the discussion with some of her thoughts and ideas.
Furthermore, my host teacher encouraged a collaborative style of learning, in which a student will assist another student in understanding the lessons. Not only does help come from my host teacher and her assistant teacher, but also from students themselves. The more capable students moved out from their chairs to go to their less capable classmates. They started opening their notes and engaged in chit-chats. One even pretended she was the teacher and went in front of the class to make a point. Another used his forefinger to stress important facts in his notes at the same time made use of hand gestures to express himself. Others, who were being taught, simply nodded in agreement and thanked the more capable classmates for tutoring. This was a clear evidence of scaffolding or adjusting or modifying the kind and amount of support given to the students that is best fitted to their level of development (Hetherington and Parke, 1993, p.333).
My host teacher, aware that her students have varied levels of knowledge absorption and mental capacity, modified the support she gives to the class by letting more capable students assist less capable ones, since she knows she cannot focus on each one of them. This allows the more capable students to share their knowledge and the less capable students to cope up with and follow the lessons, thus a harmonious classroom environment is encouraged and a uniform level of development is reached. Moreover, as I stayed longer in the classroom, I realized that students demonstrated ZPD only with the people they trust and respect.
While some called my assistance, others still regarded me as an outsider and hesitated to ask for my help. I found this claim more evident in the next session, as some students grew noisy and unruly. With just one stern look or a thumbs-down signal from my host teacher and every single mouth shuts up. Therefore, for all students to reach the desired ZPD, more capable students, who possess the ability to solve problems on their own and with the help of their teacher, should help out those who cannot solve problems independently. Also, for ZPD to take effect, trust and respect should primarily be established.
ZPD comes with time and effort. We can gauge students’ ZPD by their physical activeness either in the playground or in the classroom, as they energetically play with their playmates, and raise their hands in recitation or use hand gestures in expressing themselves, respectively. The physical development of one child does not rest solely on his or her height or weight, as both the two kids in the playground and the students in the classroom exhibited activeness and flexibility in their own ways.
Furthermore, less physical development in children does not mean less emotional and cognitive development, as evident in the girl who demonstrated more maturity and intelligence in answering my queries, and the more capable students, of normal body structures, who established more knowledge and problem solving skills. In addition, the environment where a child grows up or lives in with creates a huge impact on his or her development, as manifested by the simple beginnings of the girl who valued education more than anything else, the affluent upbringing of the boy who considered playing as more important than studying, and the students in the classroom, taught by their teacher to value collaboration in learning.
Although these are little signs of children’s physical development, these are significant indicators that will lead them to develop socially in their dealings with their parents, classmates, teachers, friends, and neighbors; emotionally in facing life and its situations maturely; and cognitively with a deep understanding of things and problem solving techniques. My research can help parents realize that they should give their children enough freedom to have fun and enjoy their childhood, but at the same time, instill the value of education. Teachers, too, can benefit from my research, in that they should encourage peer collaboration in the classroom for students to express themselves physically and cognitively. Learning about students’ ZPD is one way educational institutions can help guarantee that knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving, are imparted in our students, thus the goal of developing our children into the best individuals they can possibly be, is realized.
Hetherington, E.M. and Parke, R. (1993). Child Psychology: A contemporary viewpoint
(4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Thomas, R.M. (2000). Comparing theories of child development (5th ed.). California: