The Theory of ZPD: Its relevance, misuse and effective application in teaching small groups for the purpose of enquiry learning

Nang Kwok Orlando HO, Tin Yau Joe LO

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Vygotsky proposed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as a key theory to understand a learner’s development. In this theory, learning is a phenomenon situated in a cultural, textual context, and learning is essentially a product of the interplay of one’s self (consciousness), language (knowledge), and social interactions. Based on qualitative observations and data collected in a university-school partnership (support service) programme aiming at the promotion of enquiry learning in the junior secondary curriculum in HK, this paper seeks to show how this theoretical framework about learning may guide teachers in making effective use of small groups to enhance the quality of enquiry by young learners. It will first describe how and why small groups, judged with reference to the ZPD theory, might have oftentimes been misused in the context of HK, defeating the purpose of enquiry learning. It will illustrate what a typical lesson plan needs to include to facilitate the young learners’ moving across adjacent zones of proximal development; and why, and by what means teachers can assist the young learners in the process, so as to overcome obstacles and achieve the ideals of enquiry learning. With reference to school-based observations, this paper will analyze why some teachers almost persistently fail to make the best use of small groups. It will end with remarks on how the Vygotskyan approach to knowledge co-construction could be particularly relevant to HK teachers, in the present educational reform of HK for the development of higher order abilities of the young learners.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


small group
theory formation
educational reform
learning theory


Ho, O. N. K., & Lo, J. T. Y. (2010, December). The Theory of ZPD: Its relevance, misuse and effective application in teaching small groups for the purpose of enquiry learning. Paper presented at the 2nd East Asian International Conference on Teacher Education Research: Teacher Education for the Future: International Perspectives, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


  • ZPD [zone of proximal development]
  • Co-constructionism
  • Higher order abilities
  • Alt. title: [毗鄰發展區」的理論:以小組推行探究學習的關聯、誤用與效用