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Zone of Proximal Development: An Affirmative Perspective in Teaching ELLs

By Elsa Billings, Aída Walqui


The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) was a key construct in Lev Vygotsky’s theory of learning and development.

The Zone of Proximal Development is defined as the space between what a learner can do without assistance and what a learner can do with adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.

In the case of English language learners (ELLs)/Multilingual learners (MLLs), the immense potential that they bring to our classrooms is comprised of their intellectual, linguistic, and creative strengths that are waiting to be built upon. Educators must provide students appropriate learning experiences and support to help them realize their potential development. The goal of instruction is to foster our ELLs’/MLLs’ autonomy and their ability to engage in activities that enable them to apply and modify what they have learned to new situations.

In this brief, WestEd’s Elsa Billings and Aída Walqui explore:

  • A student’s potential academic development
  • Learning as a social process
  • Scaffolding learning
  • Expanded understandings of the Zone of Proximal Development
  • The expanded Zone of Proximal Development and language learning
  • The Zone of Proximal Development as a future-oriented approach

Download other briefs in this series produced by the New York State Education Department:

Resource Details

Product Information

Copyright: 2017
Format: PDF
Pages: 4
Publisher: New York State Education Department