All too often, reading instruction
is delayed because teachers believe that students in their classroom are too
young to learn literacy skills. The defense that is typically put forward
is that it is not "developmentally appropriate" instruction, and usually
references to Vygotsky are invoked.
Lev Vygotsky would
not approve, I assure you.
argued that education
for each child must be individualized to that child's "zone of proximal
development." He posited that each child should be given
appropriate support depending on
that child's capacities and frustration levels. Instruction,
according to Vygotsky, was a balancing game -- children should be
constantly challenged, but sufficient support should always be given so
children do not experience too much frustration.
instruction, therefore, should dance along the edge of frustration.
There are certain things an individual child can do with little support.
There are certain things that an individual child could only do with a good
deal of support. And there are certain things that should not be attempted
with an individual child because they are beyond that child's current capacity
regardless of the support level. The teacher's job is to find those
areas for an individual child where the child could be successful if given
appropriate support -- that is the zone of proximal development.
A teacher finds each child's
zone of proximal development through assessment. And because the zone
of proximal development is constantly changing for young children, assessment
must be ongoing. Things a child has trouble with today may be quite
easy for the child tomorrow -- the zone shifts, and instruction must shift
along with it.
Without assessment, it is
not possible to say what "developmentally appropriate" instruction is.
What is appropriate for one child may not be appropriate for another child
in the same classroom. Some children need less support in some areas
than their peers. Only ongoing, diagnostic assessment can reveal what
is developmentally appropriate for each child.
For more information about
assessment, see "A is for Assessment."