Vygotskian based grouping: utilizing the zone of proximal development in a chemistry laboratory

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Briggle, Justin David

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A large portion of any science major’s curriculum utilizes laboratories. Many of these laboratories now incorporate cooperative learning as a result of studies attesting to its beneficial effects. However, little attention has been given to the composition of those groups, specifically at post-secondary education institutes. We have therefore investigated the effectiveness of a grouping technique based on the theories of L. S. Vygotsky and his construct of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) in the context of an undergraduate general chemistry laboratory course at The University of Texas at Austin. All students were responsible for the completion of a short, 11 question, pre-quiz. Depending on their respective classes, students were grouped either according to the ZPD-scheme, based on pre-quiz scores, or randomly, regardless of pre-quiz score. Achievement of the students in each of the two groups was compared in order to determine grouping effectiveness. This study was carried out for 3 semesters (spring 2003, spring 2004, and fall 2004) under two different instructors. Overall, results indicate that grouping according to the ZPD-scheme revealed higher student achievement versus random grouping. Moreover, students scoring low and average on pre-quizzes benefited far more from this grouping method than higher scoring students. The protocol for implementing this grouping scheme is straightforward and is discussed in detail.