25 comments on “Of fingernails, gliders, guitars and glue – a new ZPD?

  1. Thanks, Jeremy, for this contribution. I will bear this in mind the next time I dare do something some steps beyond my reach. Do I feel comfortable doing this? Feelings do matter when it comes to teaching, learning, taking risks.

    • Hi Anita,

      yes feelings matter a lot with teaching I reckon!

      I am 100% sure that we need to take risks and am still slightly ashamed of my nail-clinic experience!!

      I wonder if it is just ourselves who decide where our ‘reach’ starts and ends…


  2. Well, Jeremy, I sympathize because I used to play the guitar (not good enough for performances) and my nails were a problem. I used to bite them.
    Your concern with creating a zone of comfortable proximal development is legitimate. After all, you went to the Salon for “technical” reasons, but could not exactly explain this to the customers (in case they cared). Next time you can achieve your goals by asking the nails professional to go to your house to do your nails. It’s likely to be a woman, so sit at a table next to a window. She’ll need lots of light anyway.
    I tried false nails because I used to (try to) play classical. It’s difficult to capture the nuances when the nail is false and false nails are usually too long, actually. Glad you picked up your guitar again. Good show. If it takes false nails, so what? You’re not competing with Paco de Lucia.
    Best wishes from Knightstower.

    • Hello Knightsower (?)

      actually I quite like my false nails even though they look a bit terrible. But they’re like a kind of badge of membership!!

      But I only use them when/if I have a performance coming up and I reckon there won’t be many of those for a bit 😦


  3. I enjoyed the personal side to this post, and have to admit I giggled a bit imagining the nail shop scene. Good lord ! The things we’ll do for music 😉

    ZCPD is point-on, and I know how true it is to all learning in my life. It’s not always easy to find that fine line of “just hard enough” but not over our heads. This makes me think of sitting at a table with a bunch of L2 native speakers and understanding 5, 20 or 50% of what’s going on. Only understanding 5% can be amusing to follow body-lingual threads of the conversation and see loads of otherwise hidden details, but you don’t feel as much growth as when you understand more of what’s going on.

    Thanks for the read, Jeremy.

    • Hi Brad,

      that reminds me of a wonderful talk at TESOL Arabia 2010 about (a bit like a Tennessee Williams play) how all L2 speakers are poised (in conversation) somewhere between desire and terror. That’s a bout right. Karenne (see below) describes how when you are in an L2 environment you suddenly become overcome with a need to say something even though, before, the fear held you back.

      Now who was it who gave that fantastic plenary in Dubai. From Sydney, Canada…


  4. Great stuff!

    Coming just at a time when, at the age of 42, I am packing up almost 7 years of a ‘comfortable’ life to go live in a 5-person shared student digs and live off tuna-fish and pasta for 2 years ..

    scared S**TL**S

    and honestly, have a solid list of reasons why I’m not possibly good enough to accomplish this but still, have an even longer list of why I’d better just figure out how to be brave enough.

    If Knightstowe hadn’t suggested it, I’d also say have a girl ’round to do your nails or… Jeremy, you could also be the brave man you really are deep down (we’ve all seen it) and call the salon again, explain what happened, explain why you need to have the acrylic nails done (they’re heaps better – super strong – if I could afford it I’d always have them)…. but if you explain how you feel (100% understandable as a bloke) – you might get extra nice treatment and in the end, play better!

    • Hello old Karenne!!

      why tuna-fish & pasta and student digs? What are you ging to study?

      And yes, I can imagine that you are pretty frightened about it. I would be. But you won’t, like me, turn round and walk away. I am sure of that.

      You know what? I just might go back to that clinic. Or maybe I’ll try another one since the site of a failure is never a great place to visit!

      Good luck!


  5. 😀 Thanks for a good laugh! I mean, the whole nail salon story is so funny yet so true. I couldn’t go into a barber’s full of Cuban cigar smoking gangsters for a Carneval beard either…Oh no!
    ZCPD – I have always been taking it a step at a time. And the more I do the more I dare. But I couldn’t just jump into any unknown pond. I need to feel in control, or at least know where the safety exit is.
    But then again, sometimes the experience that makes you take the real leap forward is the one with no safety exit 😉

    • Hello!

      Maybe (see my comment to Anita above) it’s all about how far we think our ‘reach’ extends? And we control the risks we take?

      (Glad to hear you had a ‘nails’ experience too)

      But how do we know when we can jump into the unknown?


  6. Not sure how I feel about this Jeremy… I think if the ZPD is “comfortable” it might not be a real ZPD… You say we should think about the best way to develop being to move out of the comfort zone – but not too far – or to only do so when you’re ready.

    Well, maybe I’ve been doing it wrong for a long time, but that’s the way I’ve always done it. I go out of my comfort zone when I feel (mostly) ready for it. I rationalize. “What’s the worst that could happen?”.

    I am terrified of flying. But when I rationalize, my love for traveling, visiting other places, getting to experience other culture, visit my friends… all of that weighs more. So I go out of my comfort zone. Presenting in public makes me sick to my stomach. I always think about not showing up, not going…And then I think: “What’s the worst that could happen?”. There are a few answers to that: people might not like it, maybe no one will show up… but then what? If that happens I’ll be very sad and frustrated and then choose not to send proposals anymore. So I take the step… have yet to regret it.

    So, the way I see it… what’s the worst that could’ve happened if you had stepped into that nail salon? A few giggles, strange looks… but you would’ve left with your nails.

    Just a thought…

    • Hello Ceci,

      perhaps you’ve put your finger on it (finger…nails!…oh sorry). It’s a question of thinking ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ I guess the problem is that when you don’t actually know/can’t visualise the worst, that’s when it gets tough. So you don’t go into the beauty salon..

      But you are right, I should have 😦


      • That is the thing, isn’t it? When you think “what’s the worst that can happen?” and all that comes up is a black, black hole, it’s hard to go through with anything. Personally, I find that what I need in order to take such risks is precisely not to think and just DO.

        But you’re right about ZCPD. It’s about taking calculated risks, not about falling flat on your face.

  7. Wonderful story Jeremy. Isn’t it funny how courage has so many pre-requisites? I applaud the ‘false-starts’ that are actually just steps on the way.

    • Hi Lucy,

      glad you enjoyed it!

      ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths/the valiant only taste of death but once’….I guess I was a coward, but surely to be valiant means having fear but overcoming it? Hmm. I’ve always wondered about that particular piece of Shakespeare.


  8. Great story, Jeremy! In my work, I’m following this ZCPD route too, developing a tool that allows teachers and learners to make their own little language plants so they can see the steps involved in making them. I think you should take your guitar down the nail shop and sing to them all while you’re waiting 🙂

    • Hi David,

      thanks for coming along!

      Now singing to them while I am waiting – that would be way way way out of the comfort zone!!

      (Although that’s what it felt like in Bucharest last Saturday, singing after a violin virtuoso kid left the stage, but somehow the CONTEXT made it possible. So maybe that’s what it’s all about? Context? I wonder)

      I hope lots of teachers will make their langauge plants at http://www.languagegarden.org/!!


  9. I must confess I always hated this concept of “moving out of your comfort zone”. Because it implied that teachers are just comfy old people who hate change and risk. Which is totally wrong in my eyes. I also hate the phrase because you can’t teach anything without feeling comfortable with your own choices. So of course your new version of it, Jeremy, seems quite obvious to me. We choose how far we want to go, as professional teachers, like any professional people. But what gets me thinking is the constant will to label things (preferably with acronyms). Now we have ZCPD. A la bonne heure ! but do we really need an acronym, can’t we just enjoy life without them, do we need labels for everything we do, do the labels justify our actions in a way, and if so, how. You have 30 minutes. A vos claviers !
    Thanks for sharing your finger and glue experience with us, Jeremy, it was very funny and quite deep altogether. Bon mercredi !

    • Hey Alice, thanks for coming along…

      I am glad you enjoyed the nails and the glue!

      And I don’t REALLY mean to create a new ZCPD piece of jargon. I was trying to be a tiny bit funny (though not very!!) as a way of thinking how and when/if we take risks.

      Yes, most of the teachers I like and admire are change-makers/risk-takers. But there are quite a few who get too comfortable I think!


  10. Gloria M. (@little_miss_glo) :

    That is the thing, isn’t it? When you think “what’s the worst that can happen?” and all that comes up is a black, black hole, it’s hard to go through with anything. Personally, I find that what I need in order to take such risks is precisely not to think and just DO.

    But you’re right about ZCPD. It’s about taking calculated risks, not about falling flat on your face.

    Straight out into the black hole outside the window – a jump straight off the cliff edge?

    I think it IS worth having some idea of what the consequences might be. But then sometimes, when we are impelled to act, our emotions overide any calculations we might make. All about the amygdela, I reckon!


  11. Hi Jeremy,

    Been thinking about the idea of a ZComfortablePD. I think I tend to agree with Cecilia that a ZDP does indeed have to generate a slight degree of discomfort. But the discomfort that is generated can always be minimized.

    We can always latch on to a “more capable peer” to guide us through the really difficult first steps. This person will “scaffold” the experience so we can learn from it and take our steps by ourselves the next time. This can make the experience far less painful. Then the jumps can be more effective and we really don´t run any risk of falling on our faces!

    So, coming back to the nails and guitar playing, perhaps, and this is just a very tentative perhaps, if you had had the benefit of going to the clinic with a “more capable peer” = “someone who´s really used to going to nail clinics”, then you could have actually walked in that day? After all, that´s what you did when you went gliding, you did have the instructor with you at all times, didn´t you?

    Happy guitar playing (with false nails et al)


    • Hello Valeria,

      thanks for bringing us back to the original ZPD description – having a capable peer to scaffold. Maybe all my post was about was just that. Someone could have lead me into that clinic!

      And yet, and yet….some of the most exciting experiences we have – out-of-the-comfort-zone experiences – are ones we do by ourselves. I mean even like doing a Pecha Kucha for the first time. We certainly look at what others have done/do, but there isn’t much scafflding going on.

      BTW here are the nails at work (apologies if you’ve seen this before) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lqo4Cka9lCY


  12. Please see my blog, http://worldslatestbloomer.wordpress.com about my guitar teacher, who applies his OWN acrylic nails. He told me during class today that the glue used to glue on the plastic nails over which the acrylic is applied, is what damages the natural nail bed. He uses just the acrylic itself and gets extensions of about 1/4 inch on each of his picking fingers.

    Perhaps you’ve already solved the problem before, but if you want to try this, my teacher, who’s English, is Peter & RosaMaria Pope-Jones and I’ll bet he’d be happy to advise you how he does it.

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