Zone of Proximal Development

Question: How do we enter into the world of tactile interaction? How can we help to support people who are deafblind?  How do we develop a common language and build a common experience? 

What is the Zone of Proximal Development?

Zone of Proximal Development
Zone of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development, a theory developed by Russian psychologist Lev Vyogotsky, refers to “the range of abilities that an individual can perform with assistance but cannot yet perform independently. These skills are called ‘proximal’ because the individual is close to mastering them but needs more guidance and practice in order to perform these actions independently.”

The Zone of Proximal Development as Defined by Vygotsky, Kendra Cherry 

An individual’s development within the zone of proximal development is contingent on social interaction. The range of skills that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone.

A fully developed zone of proximal development depends on social interaction with a competent interaction partner. The range of skills that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone. 

Vygotsky’s theory is that consciousness is the end product of socialization and interaction with competent partners. For example, in learning language, our first utterances with peers or adults are for the purpose of communication, but once these words are mastered, they become internalized and allow us to develop “inner speech” or “self talk” or what Vygotsky calls dialogicality.

Seeing and hearing are distance senses that allow typical children to observe the world and interact with adults and peers fully while building their understanding of how the world with its people and things work. Children who are congenitally deafblind, because of their sensory losses, don’t have the same kind of access to the world. The interaction partners in their zone of proximal development may not be competent in the child’s mode or form of communication. This is typically because the child’s experience of the world is primarily tactual, while ours is primarily auditory and visual.

Entering the Deafblind Child’s Zone of Proximal Development

How do we enter into the world of tactile interaction? How can we help to support people who are deafblind?  How do we develop a common language and build a common experience?  

Our goal is to develop a mutual understanding and experience of the world. To do this, we must become the fully present observer of the child as we experience the world together. We gain insight into their experience through watching with our hands what they are attending to with their hands, moving our bodies in the way they move their bodies, and sharing a mutual emotional response. We tune in to resonate and connect.

Children must have competent interaction partners with them in their zone of proximal development in order to develop an organized internal language. To quote Robbie Blaha, a long-time Texas Deafblind Outreach Project Consultant, “Congenitally deafblind children don’t have filing systems, they have buckets with holes in them.” How can a child who is deafblind create a structure to organize concepts and attach meaning without competent interaction partners?  These children need to be able to organize their own unique experiences in a way that will be meaningful to them.

A young boy who is deafblind and his teacher share the experience of examining a melon at the store.

A young boy who is deafblind and his teacher share the experience of examining a melon at the store.

 

Understand (the) richness of the tactile world – people who are deafblind do not lack vision and hearing but instead have preeminent contact with the world through touch (and other senses). 

Paul Hart

Powerpoint, ”Communicating, connecting and travelling through a landscape of touch”

Double-Sided Zone of Proximal Development

Dr. Paul Hart, of SENSE Scotland, used the term “double-sided zone of proximal development” to refer to a process for developing a co-created language with shared meaning.  Both interaction partners are seen as being equal when the student becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the student.  If our goal is to achieve symmetry in our communication, how can the adult better learn to understand and perceive the world from the perspective of the person who is deafblind? How do we share a language with a common meaning that is co-created by equal partners?

We seeing-hearing people need to adjust our language – and perspective – to one that’s more in-step with our kids…. this is where our role as observers comes in. It’s what we mean when we refer to Dr. van Dijk’s approach of following a deafblind person’s lead. After all, what is following the child’s lead, if not becoming the learner instead of the teacher?  

You may also want to see: https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/social-development/# 

Paul Hart Discusses the Zone of Proximal Development


To learn more about the double-side zone of proximal development, we invite you to listen to a portion of an interview with Paul Hart that took place in 2019 while he was presenting at Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired during the annual  Advanced Practitioner lecture. Kaycee Bennett, Chris Montgomery and David Wiley sat down with Paul to find out more about this concept and what it means for educators and family members who are involved with children who are deafblind.