Zone Theory of Child Development

Focus

Understanding and manipulating learning environments to channel learner development

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … a territory/area/domain/field (typically involving challenge)
  • Knowing is … attaining a goal
  • Learner is … agent on a trajectory (in a social setting)
  • Learning is … development
  • Teaching is … promoter (of action)

Originated

1990s

Synopsis

Zone Theory of Child Development claims to build on Socio-Cultural Theory – specifically the notion of zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is based on the realization that a learner in the presence of an expert is often able to do more than a learner working unaided. One’s ZPD encompasses those developmental possibilities that are within reach, with guidance. Zone Theory of Child Development adds two additional zones:
  • Zone of Free Movement (ZFM) – signals what the learning environment allows, and it encompasses environmental conditions that enable or constrain actions and access
  • Zone of Promoted Action (ZPA) – signals what the teacher promotes, and it encompasses teacher-intended actions and interactions to encourage specific types of learning. The entwining of the ZFM and ZPA is seen to channel learner development
The entwining of the ZFM and ZPA is seen to channel learner development.

Commentary

Zone Theory of Child Development follows a minor trend in education to name “zones” that ostensibly define possibilities for learning. Other examples include:
  • Zone of Optional Functioning (ZOF; Zone of Individual Optimal Functioning, ZIOF) – signals the range of physiological arousal associated with peak attentiveness, learning, and performance
  • Zone of Potentiality (ZOP) – signals the range of one’s possible learning in relation to a specific competence or discipline
While proponents assert that Zone Theory of Child Development is based on and aligned with Socio-Cultural Theory, in fact references to learning within the theory are almost entirely articulated in terms of the Attainment Metaphor. In other words, the theory can be interpreted as a formalization of a common-sense metaphor, rather than an elaboration of a well-researched theory of learning. A result is a mishmash of metaphors for knowledge, learning, and teaching – some of them arguably incompatible.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Jean Valsiner

Status as a Theory of Learning

Zone Theory of Child Development is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Zone Theory of Child Development represents an attempt to translate Socio-Cultural Theory into a model that informs teaching, by combining two “zones” over which educators can have direct control to a zone over which they can have only indirect influence.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Because of the manner in which it uncritically blends Folk Theories with Socio-Cultural Theory, Zone Theory of Child Development does not meet our criteria for a scientific theory. The perspective is associated with some empirical evidence – but, arguably, that evidence is better interpreted using Socio-Cultural Theory alone.

Subdiscourses:

  • Zone of Free Movement (ZFM)
  • Zone of Optional Functioning (ZOF; Zone of Individual Optimal Functioning, ZIOF)
  • Zone of Potentiality (ZOP)
  • Zone of Promoted Action (ZPA)

Map Location



Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Zone Theory of Child Development” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.


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