The Zone of Proximal Development

Every teacher discovers quickly that not all children are learning at the same level. For some children, information is too easy and for others it is difficult.  Most teachers in traditional education try to aim somewhere in the middle range and hope the class can be carried forward more or less together.

In public education, education is rarely targeted at the individual learner unless it is in the realm of special education. I believe that providing for individualized education in group settings would catapult our children to greater mastery.

The concept that learning needs to be individualized was first put forth by Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, during the 1930’s and caught on in educational circles in the U.S. in the 1980’s.

Vygotsky said that learning needs to take place in the immediate area between a skill level already mastered and the next level of needed mastery. This range, he called the “zone of proximal development” (the zone that is proximal (close to) the learner).  This ideal range for individual learning is thus called the child’s zone of proximal development (ZPD. Another way to think of this is that the ZPD is the next developmental level of a person’s internalization of fact, experience, or sensation. If information is too challenging, a person is frustrated.  If information is too familiar a person is only reviewing and possibly bored.

All of a person’s soul, mind, and emotions are developing within a unique zone of proximal development (ZPD),that is theirs alone. Pestalozzi indirectly referred to orchestrating teaching to the ZPD when he wrote:

The great and fundamental principle is never to attempt to teach children what they cannot comprehend, and to teach them in the exact ratio of their understanding it, without omitting one link in the chain of ratiocination, proceeding always from the known to the unknown, from the most easy to the most difficult, practicing the most extensive and accurate use of all the senses, exercising, improving and perfecting all the mental and corporeal faculties by quickening combination, accelerating and carefully arranging comparisons, judiciously and impartially making deduction, summing up the results free from prejudices and cautiously avoiding the delusions of imagination, the constant source of ignorance and error.[1]

Another theorist, Csikszentmihalyi, put forth the concept of “flow” which occurs when the perfect combination of challenge and mastery is achieved as a child works in his or her zone of proximal development.[2]  This feeling of flow is one of euphoria, oneness with life, comfort, bliss, and maybe represents the momentary integration of the physical person with the blueprint of the soul (my idea). We often see children in this state of “flow” in situations where they are fully engaged and oblivious to their surroundings.  Being in the “zone” brings about this feeling of connectedness to life through the activity in which we are engaged.

The participation of the soul in learning is yet another reason to be concerned with the ZPD. If we believe that the soul is involved in our education, then the zone of proximal development relates to the soul as well as to human development because it is an indication of where we need to put our attention in this life. Each person’s soul is at a certain stage of development towards their ultimate goal of self-realization of their blueprint.  Our karma dictates in many ways where our ZPD of soul development is. Home and family life, as well as classroom opportunities, present opportunities for growing within one’s zone. The Greater Self is a resource to guide and guard this zone of proximal development. The Greater Self, acting as the inner teacher, is like an internal compass. For these reasons, it is vital that all children receive opportunities to learn within their zone of proximal development at each physical, psychological, and spiritual stage of development.

The Montessori classroom allows for the various “zones” of the children to be expressed by the diversification of the material that is in the classroom as curriculum. Every child can be working within their ZPD without getting in the way of another child’s learning.  Being behind or ahead of their neighbor is not causing problems for the teacher, because each Montessori child usually works solo on their lessons or teams up with another child who is at the same level of development.  Or, the more experienced child becomes the teacher to a younger, less experienced child for some learning.  Generally speaking, the individualization of the approach to curriculum development and delivery allows for individual mastery similar to special education classrooms in the public schools.

One significant step to improving our public schools would be to have curriculums that would allow for individual learning which our technology is now capable of delivering.  Until every child is rapidly progressing through their zones of learning, opportunities are being wasted and hours in school are sacrificed to inefficiency.  It would behoove us to universally adapt the Montessori approach to curriculum.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow, the psychology of optimal experience. NY, New York:  Harper Collins.

++Celeste's Orchids+r2

Photography by Tom Miller

Educating the Heart

Accomplishments of the heart may even be more important in the trajectory of a human life than those of the head.  The way I am using the term “heart” is to refer to the emotions or sensibilities, (E.Q.), dispositions of character and values as well as something deeper, the indefinable spirit of man.  Educating the heart is central to our purpose because the heart is central to man’s existence.  When we think of the word heart we often come up with these concepts:  good will toward all, sharing of love for others, as well as comfort, harmony, and service to life. The famous Bible quote from Corinthians, Chap. 1, 13 often read at weddings come to mind.  Love is kind……., bears all things, hopes all things, etc.[1]  A quality education should develop the moral potentialities of the heart, as well as its generosity and courage.

Children relate to others with their hearts first.  Even a new born baby knows if someone loves her or not. It is not intellectual with children.  Thus, it is often easier for children to enter into their hearts than for the adults who are teaching them.   The axiom that children are pure in heart is very true, especially babies.  As children age, the heart becomes more multidimensional expressing many qualities –both negative and positive.

The Soul and the Heart

The soul is eternal without the heart, but needs the heart to express itself, as well as the mind and the body.  Thus the soul and the heart are intricately connected, the soul using the heart to experience the world. The heart is where the greater self (inner teacher) and soul commune.  Because of this, perhaps we should conclude that all soul education must actually begin in the heart – not the head, because the soul is accessed more easily through the heart.  A hardened heart is a closed door for the soul.  A loving heart gives the soul entre into day-to-day living.  The soul– captive to expressions of the heart, mind and body—is either limited or unlimited by our heart’s orientation to life.

A heart-education should help a child make right choices, to know that even though the head may indicate a certain action to be reasonable and correct, none-the-less, confirmation from the heart is also needed. All of our right choices help our souls to evolve.   If everyone you met was a loving person, what a world this would be!

A Heart Runs Through

If the purpose of life is to love and love again, then the qualities of heart are super important to develop.  I suggest these attributes are heart qualities, but there are probably others too.  Purity, constancy, grace, truthfulness, authenticity, compassion, reflectiveness, fortitude, practicality, and humility, come to mind.

I give an explanation in Parenting the Reincarnated Child about the concept of distinguishing between the head problems and heart problems when children misbehave.  Getting to the root of the heart problems which represent negative willful behavior will encourage the development of the positive heart attributes listed above.  Heart problems are always moral problems.   As Pestalozzi said:  “A moral education would “elevate the inner dignity of our nature, the pure, highly godly being which lies within us.”[2] This sense was not developed by the power of the mind, but by the power of the heart in love. [3]A child who has had this orientation at home will understand a teacher who points out that an infraction was a heart problem as opposed to a head problem.

Research Studies from the HeartMath Institute

I read research a number of years ago from the HeartMath Institute that said that all information coming to the brain is first received by the heart and then travels from the physical heart to the brain in microseconds.  If this is true, then the heart is the first organ to receive the brunt of either the positive or negative messages from the environment and as our first line of defense would be very important.  Some neurocardiologists are calling these signals (from the heart to the head, that influence perception, emotional experience and higher mental processes), the “heart brain” (a kind of little brain).[4] “This heart brain, like the brain proper, has an intricate network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells. It can act independently to learn, remember, feel and sense.”[5]  It has been called an intelligent heart because it can intentionally change the information the heart sends to the brain.  Researchers at the Institute of HeartMath have found that “emotions (of the heart) such as compassion, care and love, or generally positive feeling states, can actually benefit you in many ways. “[6]  We also know from personal experiences that we enjoy being with loving people.

The emotions are more important than we previously thought.  As we learned from Pert (1999) the brain and the body share chemicals and hormones and they constantly communicate with one another.  Dr. Green of the Mayo Clinic has said

“[E]very change in the physiological state is accompanied by an appropriate change in the mental emotional state, conscious or unconscious, and conversely every change in the mental emotional state, conscious or unconscious, is accompanied by an appropriate change in the physiological state”. [7]

Because we now know that emotion drives attention and attention drives learning and memory, obviously, the emotional climate of our classrooms is either a detriment, or an assist to learning.  Creating a positive, nurturing environment is essential. We need to be artful about creating learning experiences which allow for the possibility of trial and error without fear of failure, loss of face and self-respect.

Dr. Celeste A. Miller

Excerpted from the soon to be released Educating the Reincarnated Child

[1] Corinthians I, Chapter 13, 1-13
[2]Heafford, M. (1967).  Pestalozzi, London: Methuen & Co TS, Barnes and Noble US distributors. (Pestalozzi, Schriften 4 (1805-26, I) p.193, Uber die Idee der Elementarbildung. Quoted in Heafford.), p.60

[3] Werke, S. (1899). Pestalozzi, Uber Geist und Herz in der Methode,  Vol 18, pp. 36-7
[4] website
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 127

Butterfly Galaxy

Butterfly Galaxy

Dr. Makoto Shichida Part 2

Dr. Makoto Shichida, Part 2

Dr. Shichida postulated that the two distinct types of brain functions (right and left) result in two different types of memory and mental operations.

Left Side of Brain

The left side he believed operated at the beta wave frequency (14 to 30 hertz cycles per second).  This brain wave pattern is most frequent used by adults in our awake states.

Right Side of Brain

The right side of the brain operates on the alpha wave cycle (8 to 13 hertz cycles per second).  This pattern is more common in young children.  The right brain wave pattern – alpha wave cycle – learns mostly with images.  This wave frequency is most often associated in adults with a relaxed alert state of mind such as in meditation, just after awakening, or while relaxing to music.  Chinese chi-gong masters have been scientifically shown to be working with alpha waves and the right side of the brain is “wired” to learn from alpha waves per Dr. Shichida.

Thus, it is not the activity that is either right or left brain, but the frequency of the brain that you use to do the activity. So, for example music could be listened to with the left brain or with the right brain with a different result.  The left brain might analyze the music and the right brain experience the music.  Meditation, deep breathing and music are tools to shift the wave patterns from beta to alpha.  These two brain wave states are our waking states. Dr. Shichida believed that children were in the alpha wave state up to the age of three. After this, the left side of the brain begins to dominate in most people.

Key to Dr. Shichida’s theory is the notion that our subconscious mind receives information through our skin as well as the five senses in the alpha wave length state.  In order to send and receive images, the mind must be operating at the Alpha wave cycles.  Telepathy is possible when the vibrational frequencies travelling through the body are changed into mental images at the alpha wave state.  (Note:  Dr. Shichida uses the term “right brain” to refer to alpha wave learning and “left brain” to refer to beta wave learning.  It may be that there are wave patterns of learning not limited to a particular brain hemisphere and that calling certain types of learning right or left brain as he does is misleading.  Therefore, it may be more accurate to discuss his success as attributable to using certain brain wave frequencies of learning using various parts of the whole brain.  Future neurological studies might be able to sort this out.)

Materials to develop right brain functions

The method used to develop right brain function is to input information at a high speed to the right brain (Science has yet to tell us exactly where this information is stored in the brain). This is accomplished with speed-reading, speed-watching and speed- hearing.  At the Shichida Child Academies in Japan, mothers attend classes 1 time per week with their child and are taught to use flash cards in a rapid-fire manner flashing visual information at less than 1 second per card and by repetitious playing of audiotapes (speed-hearing).  “A high speed massive input (without comprehension or conscious memorization) is the key to activate the right brain” [1]The content of the visual and auditory input is carefully orchestrated to achieve specific skill levels of right-brain functioning but not to teach specific information.  Once the pathways (mylenated synapses) are established for right-brain functioning, a child can learn anything and learning becomes automatic.

Using these methods he had some success with children with brain disorders and Down’s syndrome children. Flash cards music, games and physical exercises were all part of a holistic program he developed into kits for various ages.  Storyboarding cards, vocabulary cards, memory games and guessing games are many of the activities that parents use with their children.   The specific games and methods he used to develop right-brain functions are proprietary intellectual property shared only at his academies, but a glance through his catalog gives you the idea there is plenty of variety.

1. Shichida, M. (1996). Right Brain Education – The education of mind and affection. Japan: Shichida Child Education, p. 6

Dr. Celeste Miller


All known English references for Dr. Shichida

Shichida, M. ( 1993a    ) Right brain education in infancy theory and practice.  Japan:  Shichida Child Education

Shichida, M. (1993b)  Babies are geniuses.  Japan:  Shichida Child Education

Shichida, M. (1994).  Science of intelligence and creativity.  Japan:  Shichida Child Education

Shichida, M. (1996). Right Brain Education – The education of mind and affection.  Japan:  Shichida Child Education

Shichida, M. (1997).  Workshop given in Minneapolis, MN, November

Shichida, M. (1998).  Workshop given in Livingston, MT, June