Cognitive development

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development consists of four evident phases. The first is referred to as the sensorimotor stage. This stage typically occurs between birth and two years of age. During the sensorimotor stage children at first rely solely on the reflexes (sucking and rooting for example) that they were born with. Intelligence manifests itself through motor activities, for example children learn to crawl and walk during this stage. Most of the knowledge acquired during this stage is through physical activity.

However, some language skills begin to emerge and the concept of object permanence is obtained during the sensorimotor period. The second segment of Piaget’s theory is called the preoperational stage. This takes place between the ages of two and seven. Throughout this stage children are egocentric. In other words they believe that everyone thinks exactly as they do. Children begin to use symbolism in relation to their world. Also, their use of oral language, memory, and imagination blossoms during this time. The concrete operational stage is Piaget’s third stage of cognitive development.

Between the ages of seven and eleven children experience a dramatic change in the way they think. Thinking becomes less egocentric and more logical. Reversibility, the ability to perform a mental operation and then reverse one’s thinking to return to the starting point, manifests itself prominently during this stage (Slavin, 2003, p. 33). The final step in the cognitive development theory of Piaget is identified as the formal operational stage. It has been ascertained that only about 35% of people ever achieve formal operational thought (Huitt & Hummel, 2003).

This stage provides those who attain it with the ability to master abstract though and use symbols in relation. This affords the capacity to complete intricate problems in subjects such as Algebra. Hypothetical situations are also processed logically during this stage. While Piaget’s theory has four clear stages, Vygotsky alleged that there are no set stages at all. The first facet of Vygotsky’s theory is referred to as private speech, or essentially talking to oneself. Vygotsky found private speech to be important because it aided children in thinking through an issue and coming to a solution or conclusion.

Private speech eventually is internalized, but it never completely goes away. Vygotsky’s idea of a zone of proximal development is the second aspect of his cognitive theory. A zone of proximal development is the level of development immediately above a person’s present level (Slavin, 2003, p. 44). The zone of proximal development contains things that children may not be able to do alone at the time, but are on the verge of achieving. Vygotsky felt it was important to work within the zone proximal development to achieve maximum learning.

Scaffolding involves encouragement and assistance in the form of advice and suggestions to aid a child in mastering a new concept. Scaffolding is the final piece of Vygotsky’s cognitive development theory. By using hints and pointers from teachers, parents, and peers who have already grasped the desired concept, children are able to form their own path toward a solution and by doing this eventually to self-regulate, or think and solve problems without the help of others (Slavin, 2003, p. 44). Teachers and school systems have been applying the cognitive development theories of Piaget and Vygotsky for some time.

A good example of Piagentian learning could be set in a preschool classroom. During the preschool years Piaget views children as being in the Preoperational stage and as a result they tend to be egocentric. Therefore, it would be logical to talk about things with preschool age children from their own viewpoints as they will feel their experiences are the only experiences. During show and tell one child might say the ball that another child brought to class to share is for rolling while the child who brought the ball may feel the ball is better suited to throwing.

Neither child is wrong in this instance, the ball can be used for both purposes, but they may think that because they each respectively like to roll or throw the ball that the other child likes to share in the same activity. A possible classroom application of Vygotsky’s cognitive theory could take place in a first grade classroom. First grade students are often on varying levels of knowledge. Some children may already know how to read while others are still trying to master this concept.

A good way to help the children who are not reading as well as the others may be to give these children help sounding out a word when they get stuck while reading a story. In conclusion, cognitive development plays a key role in learning and thinking methods of children. Piaget and Vygotsky offer some incredible insight into the possible ways children learn and by using these theories it is possible to create a more conducive learning environment for each child. The basic difference between the two theories is the following:

  1. Vygotsky is concerned with the relation between language and thought and with the process of cognitive development;
  2. Piaget is concerned with the child’s mental activities, that is, his/her developmental stages. Vygotsky: To him, language and thought are two different processes.

Language is “non-intellectual”, and thought is “non-verbal”. However, by the time a child reaches the age of two, these two processes begin to interact, that is, thought becomes “verbal” and speech becomes “rational”. Two-year-old children begin to realize that everything around him/her (objects, people, animals, etc. has a “name”. Therefore, whenever he/she is confronted with a new object, he/she has to name it. That explains, for example, the fact that a child who knows that a dog is called “dog”, the moment he/she sees a horse, he/she will immediately name it “bow-wow”. Another example: by the age of two, the child knows that each new object, such as a new toy, has a name. That’s why he/she is constantly asking the mother (or caretaker) to name unknown objects. Vygotsky’s “social constructivism”: To him, cognitive skills and thought patterns are not innate, that is, they are not derived from the mind or from the intellect.

They are socially acquired (=developed socially). In addition, in the construction of this process, language is an essencial tool that determines how the child will learn and think. Why? Because, to Vygotsky, advanced thought patterns are passed onto the child by means of words. Piaget: He developed a model of child development and learning. According to him, a child’s “cognitive structure” is an intricate system of “mental maps”, that is, concepts, which will help him/her understand the world around him/her. This cognitive structure gradually develops into highly complex mental activities.

To Piaget, there are four developmental stages:

  1. sensorimotor stage (age of 2): two-year-olds build concepts through interaction with parents and/or caretaker(s);
  2. preoperational (from 2 to 7 years old): the child needs to relate to concrete objects and/or people (mom, dad, table, dog; ball, football, etc. ); at this stage, the child is not able to understand abstract concepts;
  3. concrete operations (7 to 11): the child is now able to conceptualize, that is, to develop logical structures; he/she is now able to deal with abstraction (such as arithmetic);
  4. formal operations (11-15): by the time he/she is 15, the child’s cognitive structures are the same as an adult’s; now he/she is able to use concepts and abstract reasoning. (Slavin, 2009)

Both Piaget and Vygotsky put forward a stage theory. There are particular stages individuals experience through their lives. For example; sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operations are the stages of Piaget’s cognitive development which individuals go through their lifeps. They both emphasized that learners should be active and diligent in learning process.

Piaget and Vygotsky also agreed on the idea that children are the active receivers of information rather than passive recipients of knowledge. Both of them stressed that each child is a different world and individuals have different perceptions on the world as well. They stated that it should not be forgotten that each child has different developmental characteristics. Both Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that children’s cognitive development took place in stages. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 149). However they were distinguished by different styles of thinking.

Piaget was the first t reveal that children reason and think differently at different periods in their lives. He believed that all children progress through four different and very distinct stages of cognitive development. This theory is known as Piaget’s Stage Theory because it deals with four stages of development, which are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P. 26). In the first stage sensorimotor, which occurs from birth to the age of two is the time in an infant’s life when the child basically deals with what is presented to him.

They learn about physical objects and are concerned with motor skills and the consequences of some of their actions. (Thomson, Meggit 1997 P. 107). During this stage children will learn the concept of object permanence. This is where an object will continue to exist even if it is out of sight. (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P. 48) The preoperational stage last from two to seven years. In this stage it becomes possible to carry on a conversation with a child and they also learn to count and use the concept of numbers. This stage is divided into the preoperational phase and the intuitive phase.

Children in the preoperational phase are preoccupied with verbal skills and try to make sense of the world but have a much less sophisticated mode of thought than adults. In the intuitive phase the child moves away from drawing conclusions based upon concrete experiences with objects. One problem, which identifies children in this stage, is the inability to cognitively conserve relevant spatial information. This is when, when a material is manipulated and no longer matches the cognitive image that a child has made, that child believes the amount of material has been altered instead of just its shape. Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 135) During the Concrete Operational stage from ages seven to ten, children of this age are in school and they begin to deal with abstract concepts such as numbers, relationships and how to reason. They can now group certain things into categories, and put objects into size order, number order, and any other types of systematic ordering. There is a form of logical reasoning and thinking. Using logic, the child is capable of reversibility and conservation, which is the understanding of that mental operations and physical operations, can be reversed.

They are now beginning to understand other people’s perspectives and views and are capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. In this stage a person can do mental operations but only with real concrete objects, events or situations. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 139). Finally, in the formal operational stage, age twelve to fifteen, the child has become more adult-like in their thought structures and processes. They begin to reason logically, systematically and hypothetically. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 139). They understand meanings without the need for physical objects or images.

In other words, they can imagine things that do not exist or that they have never experienced. This stage is generally like the preceding stage but at a more advanced level. The formal operational person is capable of meta-cognition, that is, thinking about thinking. Piaget also theorised on Adaptation, and Development. The adaptation theory (also known as the Constructivist theory) involved three fundamental processes, which contributed to the child’s cognitive development. These are assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium. Assimilation involved the incorporation of new events into pre-existing cognitive structures.

Accommodation is the adjustment involved in the formation of new mental structures needed to accommodate new information. Equilibration involved the person striking a balance between himself and the environment, between assimilation and accommodation. When a child experienced a new event, disequilibrium set in until he was able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium. There were many different types of equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation, which varied with the levels of development and the problems, which needed to be solved. Thomson, Meggit 1997 P. 105) This dual process, assimilation-accommodation, enabled the child to form schema, and with each stage there came new methods for organising knowledge together with the acquisition of new schema. Schemas are “ Form action plans which guide us in understanding what is going on around us” (Hayes b. P. 15) These are similar to responses but imply more cognitive processes. A schema includes ideas, information, actions and plans. People can learn by adopting new schemes or combine smaller already present schemes to create new larger ones. (Hayes a. 1999 P. 8) In contrast of Piaget, Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and philosopher in the 1930’s, is most often associated with the social constructivist theory and came into three general claims; Culture – which is that higher mental functioning in the individual emerged out of social processes. Secondly Language – which human social and psychological processes are fundamentally shaped by cultural tools. Lastly the developmental method Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the concept that the potential of the child is limited to a specific time p. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 49-150). Vygotsky believed that it was adults and the Childs peers, which had the responsibility in sharing their greater collective knowledge with the younger generations. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 149-150). This type of learning supports a discovery model of learning and places the teacher in an active role while the students’ mental abilities develop naturally through various paths of discovery. Vygotsky argued that through social activities children learnt cultural ‘tools’ and social inventions. These included language, rules, counting systems, writing, art, and music.

Language for Vygotsky was a system of symbolic representation, which had been perfected over many previous generations and allowed the child to “abstract” the world. It provides the symbols for the child’s equations concerning the world; Language came into three separate categories, which were Social, Egocentric, and Inner. For Vygotsky language was what made thinking even a possibility. Language is the difference between thinking on an elementary level and on a higher level. According to Vygotsky’s theory ‘ZPD’ had to do with a child’s current and potential abilities to do something. Flanagan 1999 P. 72). He believed that problem-solving tasks could be placed into three categories, which were as follows: (a) those performed independently by the student “independent performance” (b) those that could not be performed even with help; and (c) those that fall between the two, the tasks that can be performed with help from others “assisted performance. ” (www. teachers info site). Vygotsky believed the concept of ‘ZPD’ recommended a better move towards to education and allowed a better understanding of the learning process. (Flanagan 1999 P. 73)

Bruner built on Vygotsky’s idea of the ZPD, by introducing what he described as scaffolding. Scaffolding is the help, which is given to a child that supports the child’s learning. Scaffolding is similar to scaffolding around a building; it can be taken away after the need for it has ended. When a child is shown how to do something he can now accomplish this task on its own. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 154). Vygotsky believed that the history of the child and the history of the child’s culture needed to be understood because it overrides the cognitive schema process that Piaget described. (www.

Teachers info site). Piaget believed that the sequence of how children experience the stages was universal, but acknowledged the rate at which each child moved through these stages was flexible and relative upon factors such as maturity, social influences, and other factors. Because of the difference in the skills needed for each level, Piaget believed that children should not be forced into learning 4 the knowledge of the next stage until the child was cognitively ready. (Flanagan 1999 P. 57) However, Vygotsky believed that instruction came before development and that instruction lead the learner into ZPD.

Piaget and Vygotsky had many contrasting views which included Piaget believing that cognitive changes precede linguistic advances, unlike Vygotsky who proposed that language allowed the child a far greater freedom of thought and lead to further cognitive development. (Flanagan 1999 P. 59) Piaget believed in the development of thinking and that language moved from individual too social. (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P. 84). However, Vygotsky believed that language moved from the social to the individual. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 150).

For Vygotsky speech moved from social speech (communicative) to inner egocentric speech. (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 150) He believed that children began by voicing a personal dialogue and then moved to social speech. He argued that it became internalised as an adult. In contrast, Piaget claimed that egocentric Speech was simply an accompaniment to a child’s actions (Ginsburg, Opper 1979 P. 84) and that egocentric speech went away with maturity. However, even though they both had different opinions on the purpose of egocentric speech both agreed on the importance that it played in cognitive development.

Vygotsky, like Piaget, believed the relationship between the individual and the social as being a necessary relational. However, Vygotsky believed that it was adults and the Childs peers, which had the responsibility in sharing their greater collective knowledge with the younger generations. He did not believe it was possible for a child to learn and to grow individually and the culture and the environment around the child played a big part in their Cognitive Development. (Flanagan 2001 P. 72). He also believed a child was unable to develop the way he or she had without learning from others in the environment in which they were raised.

In contrast, Piaget maintained that children were naturally inquisitive about their own abilities and about their environment (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P. 129) and that children advanced their knowledge because of biologically regulated cognitive changes. (Flanagan 2001 P. 57). Whereas, Piaget believed that a child was only possible of learning the processes in each stage at any time (Flanagan 1999 P. 60) and overlooked the role of the child’s activity with relation to thought processes. For Piaget, children construct knowledge through their actions on the world.

By contrast, Vygotsky’s stages, unlike Piaget’s, were that of a smooth and gradual process. That understanding is social in origin. For Vygotsky the cultural and social aspects took on a special importance which is much less symmetrical than Piagets theories. Improve Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive DevelopmentPiaget portrayed children as active and motivated learners who, through numerous interactions with their physical and social environments, construct an increasingly complex understanding of the world around them.

He proposed that cognitive development proceeds through four stages:

  1. the sensorimotor stage (when cognitive functioning is based primarily on behaviors and perceptions);
  2. the preoperational stage (when symbolic thought and language become prevalent, but reasoning is “illogical” by adult standards);
  3. the concrete operations stage (when logical reasoning capabilities emerge but are limited to concrete objects and events);
  4. the formal operations stage (when thinking about abstract, hypothetical, and contrary-to-fact ideas becomes possible).

Developmental researchers have found that Piaget probably underestimated the capabilities of infants, preschoolers, and elementary schoolchildren, and overestimated the capabilities of adolescents. Researchers have found, too, that children’s reasoning on particular tasks depends somewhat on their prior knowledge, experience, and formal schooling relative to those tasks. Contemporary developmentalists doubt that cognitive development can really be characterized as a series of general stages that pervade children’s thinking in diverse content domains.

A few theorists, known as neo-Piagetians, propose that children acquire more specific systems of concepts and thinking skills relevant to particular domains and that these systems may change in a stagelike manner. Many others instead suggest that children exhibit more gradual trends in a variety of abilities. However, virtually all contemporary theorists acknowledge the value of Piaget’s research methods and his views about motivation, the construction of knowledge, and the appearance of qualitative changes in cognitive development.

Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive DevelopmentVygotsky proposed that adults promote children’s cognitive development both by passing along the meanings that their culture assigns to objects and events and by assisting children with challenging tasks. Social activities are often precursors to, and form the basis for, complex mental processes: Children initially use new skills in the course of nteracting with adults or peers and slowly internalize these skills for their own, independent use. Often, children first experiment with adult tasks and ways of thinking within the context of their early play activities. Contemporary theorists have extended Vygotsky’s theory in several directions. For instance, some suggest that adults can help children benefit from their experiences through joint construction of meanings, guided participation, and cognitive apprenticeships.

Others recommend that adults engage children and adolescents in authentic, adultlike tasks, initially providing enough scaffolding that youngsters can accomplish those tasks successfully and gradually withdrawing it as proficiency increases. And most developmentalists believe that children’s play activities prepare them for adult life by allowing them to practice a variety of adultlike behaviors and to develop skills in planning, cooperation, problem solving, and self-restraint.

Comparing Piagetian and Vygotskian PerspectivesChallenge, readiness, and social interaction are central to the theories of both Piaget and Vygotsky. However, the two perspectives differ on the role of language in cognitive development, the relative value of free exploration versus more structured and guided activities, the relative importance of interactions with peers versus adults, and the influence of culture. Vygotsky believed that children must construct their own knowledge.

While Piaget is said to focus on the individual construction of knowledge, Vygotsky emphasizes the social construction of knowledge. Vygotsky’s pays attention to language because it is such the building blocks of human interactions. Scaffolding, an important concept in Vygotsky’s theory, refers to the process by which the adult or older child helps the child in a task, offering suggestions or filling in bits of missing information, until the child can accomplish the task alone. An example of scaffolding

Another concept in Vygotsky’s theory is the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which refers to anything a child cannot yet do independently, but can do with help. Tasks within the zone of proximal development are those that are challenging without being either too easy or too hard for children. Private speech, for Vygotsky, is the means by which children direct their own learning or behavior. In a way, they take on the role of the adult, providing their own scaffolding to support themselves through a difficult task.

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