The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
The ZPD symbolises individuals’ learning journeys. As Vygotsky (1978: 86) defines, the ZPD is ‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’. The definition shows that individuals are in process of maturation within the ZPD. The focus of the ZPD is the very process during which individual development is generated. For Vygotsky, individuals’ developmental process is able to operate only when they are interacting with others and guided by others. Cole (1985: 155) argues that individuals’ development is a structure of joint activity in any context where they ‘exercise differential responsibility by virtue of differential expertise’. Others who are more capable play essential roles in helping individuals to progress. Such guidance is termed mediation in the literature. As
Poehner and Lantolf (2010: 316) emphasise, mediation is a matter of offering assistance as appropriate. According to them, assistance should aim at helping ‘to move the individual toward independent, agentive performance and to be able to transfer what is appropriated in a given circumstance to future situations’.
The coteaching classroom has been considered a setting where mediated activities are designed to generate the ZPD (Wells 2000; Fani and Ghaemi 2011) and where students teach their peers and benefit from the teaching process in terms of increasing mutual understanding and respect (Jennings and Di 1996). The current coteaching approach ensures that both coteachers and peer learners cooperate with each other and help each other to learn. According to Figure 1, the ZPD is integral to the current coteaching study. It elaborates the four stages of the process of maturation of both coteachers and peer learners in terms of their language learning within the dynamic process of generating a ZPD. Coteachers are represented by the shaded faces while peer learners are represented by the white faces. Stage I is when all students, including both coteachers and peer learners are at the same level of Chinese. Stage II highlights the fact that coteachers need to consolidate their language competence before conducting peer teaching. This stage overlaps with the process of their preparation for coteaching. Stage III emphasises that the process of coteaching helps peer learners to reinforce their language level and narrow the gap between their level of Chinese and their teachers’ level of Chinese. Coteachers’ teaching activities are the mediation through which peer learners improve their language level. Stage IV shows that all students, including both coteachers and peer learners, are at the same level of Chinese again after a coteaching session. These four stages together illustrate the continuous process of the implementation of coteaching in the current study.