Jean Piaget is famous for developing one of the most influential theory, the theory of cognitive development. The theory is mainly concerned with the construction and emergence of schemata which comprises the schemes of how a person does perceive the world especially during the developmental stages when the children are gaining new means of mentally expressing information. The theory is considered constructivist in opposition to other theories which could be either nativist or empiricists, (Brainerd, C. 1978).
The theory proposes that we do get to construct our cognitive abilities through the self-motivated action in ones world. The nativist theory on the other hand asserts that cognitive development is the unfolding of innate abilities and knowledge while empiricist theories defines cognitive development as a gradual process in which knowledge is acquired through experience, (Brainerd, C.J. & Reyna, V.F 2002). For this theory, Piaget won the Erasmus prize. There are four main periods that Piaget used to describe the schemes that children make use of to understand the world, (Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K. 1981).
Four stages as described by Piaget’s.
This occurs at the age of 0 to 2 years, (Piaget, J. 1929). According to Piaget, children are born with a congenital reflexes which permits them to float in the dense world beyond their drive to explore the world around them. The initial schemes that the children have at this stage is all based on the differentiation of their congenital reflexes. Since this is the first of the four stages according to Piaget it marks an important stage in which the child develops spatial abilities to understand the world in six different stages, (Piaget, J. 1929).
These stages include;
• The reflex scheme stage that takes place from birth to one month. It is primarily associated with the development of reflexes.
• Primary circular reaction stage is the second stage that occurs from one month to four month. It is primarily associated with the development of habits.
• The secondary circular reactions phase forms the third stage. It occurs from the fourth month to the eighth month and is primarily associated with the development of vision and prehension coordination, (hand-eye coordination).
• The fourth sub stage is concerned with the development of the object permanence development. It is generally called the coordination of secondary course round modest circular reactions stage and occurs from the eighth month to the twelfth month.
• The tertiary circular reactions phase is what Piaget suggested to the fifth sub stage from twelve to eighteen months. This is the stage that Piaget suggested that the ‘little scientist’ is born through active creativity and experimentation.
• The sixth final sub stage here is characterized by the beginning of symbolic representation and it occurs from the eighteen months to twenty four months. At this stage the new found means of considering before taking an action gives the child new ways of eventually achieving a goal without having to go for the trial and error experiment, (Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K. 1981).
This is the second of four main stages of cognitive development. Piaget demonstrated that a qualitative psychological functioning does occur as the child approaches the end of second year. According to Piaget, a preparatory thought is any particular procedure that promotes mental action on objects. The main hallmark in this stage is logically inadequate and sparse mental operations, (Flavell 1963). It is at this stage that the child learns to repress and use objects by words and images, that is symbolic thinking is evident. Since the child still has difficult of adopting other people’s viewpoint, thinking is still egocentric.
It as it this stage that the child has the potential to classify similar objects together trough a single feature such as color or shape, (Brainerd, C. 1978).
Piaget suggested that this stage which immediately follows Sensorimotor stage occurs between 2-7 years of stage. It at this stage that children develop their language skills and thus they begin expressing things using images and words. Worth noting here is the child relies more on intuition that the logical reasoning at this stage. At the beginning, there are more egocentric since they are not yet aware that other people are not thinking or perceiving things in the same way like they do. It at this time that their imaginative mind is very active and they thus associate emotions to certain inanimate objects, (Piaget, J. 1929).
This stage is further broken down into Preconceptual stage and the Intuitive stage. The Preconceptual stage occurs at the stage of 2-4 years and is mainly characterized by egocentric thinking as well as animistic thought. A child with animistic thought is one who has the tendency to assign attributes of living things to inanimate objects such as the perception that a glass does feel pain when it is broken. The intuitive stage that occurs between the forth year to the seventh year is characterized by the potential child who is actively solving problems through the mental process. Though at this stage they do manage to achieve some goals, they are however unaware on how they achieved their conclusion.
A simple example is when a child is able to correctly identify the majority from the minority just by the virtual of sight. An example is when a child is presented with seven dogs and maybe 2 cats and he/she is asked if there are more dogs that cats. As expected the child would respond positively but will also commit a logical error if supposedly asked the same question in the same way but differently such as if there are more dogs that animal, (Brainerd, C. 1978). The child will most likely respond by saying yes thus showing the use intuition at this stage. An important observation by Piaget is that children mainly learn through play and imitation through these first two stages, (Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K. 1981)..
Concrete operational stage
This is the third of the four stages in Piaget’s cognitive development theory. It follows preoperational stage and is suggested to occur between the age of 7 to 11 years, (Piaget, J. 1929). It is characterized by the appropriate use of logic and at this stage some of the important processes that have been identified include;
• Seriation, which is the ability to sort different objects based on shape, size or other characteristic. A good example is the potential to differentiate color gradient.
• Classification-the ability of the child to identify and name sets of objects based on size, appearance as well as other characteristics that may suggest that one object may include another.
• Decentering-this is a process where the child is able to take into account multiple aspects of a problem towards solving it. An example is the change in perception where a child will no longer will no longer hold the perception that an exceptionally wide yet short cup will hold less amount that one that is normally tall and wide.
• Reversibility-where the young one is able to comprehend that objects and numbers can be altered and eventually returned back their original state. Thus the child will be able to comprehend that since 3+3= 6, then 6-3=3.
• Conservation- the ability to understand that length, quantity or number of items is basically mot related to their appearance or arrangement.
• Elimination of egocentricim- this is the ability of the child to understand and view things from another perspective even though they may think incorrectly.
Formal operational stage
This is the fourth and the final stage in cognitive development according to Piaget’ theory. It starts at around 12 years of age soon after the Concrete Operational stage and continues all the way to adulthood, (Ashurst 1985). It is the stage that is characterized with the ability to reason logically, think abstractly, and be able to draw conclusions from the available information. It is at this young adult stage that one is able to understand such aspects as logical proofs, love and values. Some biological factors can be traced during this stage as it occurs during puberty thus marking the entry into adulthood in cognition, physiology, moral judgment (Kohlberg), psychosocial development (Erikson) and psychosexual development (Freud). It is estimated that approximately two-thirds of all the people fail to develop this type of reasoning fully for it to become their normal cognition mode and thus they remain as operational thinkers even as adults, (Flavell 1963).
The above four stages have some general observation. One is that though they may vary in time, sequence does not change, (Brainerd, C. 1978). The stages also apply to thought and not to children and they universal thus they cannot be associated with any culture.
Shortcoming to Piagetian stage theory.
There are several challenges that have been put froth against Piagetian theory some of which even Piaget himself has noted such as the fact that development does not have to progress in such as the smooth manner that his theory has proposed. His theory is a general one since it suggests that cognitive maturation occurs across different aspects of knowledge such as logic, mathematics, language among others, (Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K. 1981).
Application of Piagetian theory
Most of the educators as well as psychologists do manage to receive piagetian theory training during their professional training. A piagetian assessment is more likely to be a familiar concept among the psychologists who work in those districts that carry out alternative assessment of cognitive ability on regular basis. A good example are the psychologists at the Southern California Diagnostic Center who do make use of the Ordinal Scale more in depth during a Piagetian assessment. For most of these psychologists, a Piagetian assessment is like a departure from the standardized intelligence testing.
The standardized intelligence tests that are available usually diagnose the student’s academic achievement expectancy and it may usually take considerable amount of time and thus may not be done for more than one year. This thus limits the tests for use during short term interventions such as pre-test or post-test. More to this is that standardized cognitive tests quantify a students power or strength of abilities or processing but unfortunately the quantification does not precisely predict the intervention method that are most likely applicable or useful, (Flavell 1963).
A curriculum-based measurement (CBM) can be done several times within a year by the school psychologists as a pretest or post-test on how effective the intervention is. Unfortunately, CBM does not provide details of why the intervention may or may not be successful nor does it serve as a diagnostic tool for the instructional modifications. On the other hand, Piagetian screening can be useful in giving instructional interventions especially incases to do with comprehension or math concepts, (Piaget, J. 1929).
Piagetian theory gives the stage wise development of qualitative means of developing thinking from one stage to the next. Through this understanding it is possible to understand more easily why students experience learning difficulties. Thus Piagetian screening does provide an avenue of quickly estimating a student’s cognitive development level, (Ashurst 1985).
In a summary thus, one can point to Piagetian tasks as signposts that indicate the level or stage that a child of a particular age is functioning. Thus it is important to understand that teaching a child certain specific tasks does not in any way change the development stage of the child. Thus these signpost are useful when developing accommodations and modifications that do support a match between a Childs a curriculum with his/her cognitive processing ability.
Necessary interventions for a child curriculum especially at the age of 4.
Most of the children usually do encounter difficult math problems. Piagetian theory can be used to explain the appropriate interventions that can be adopted and especially at the age of four. For a student to effectively understand the mathematical concepts of simple subtraction and addition, there is need for him/her to acquire the concept of conservation of numbers. A child who is yet to attain conservation of number concept can still be able to perform, state or memorize various procedures such as subtraction or addition but may most likely be confused with the same concepts weeks, days or even hours later. The main reason for this is that information is stored as verbatim representations and the gist representations, (Brainerd, C. 1978).
The modern theories of memory suggest that memory is stored as verbatim (exact input), or gist (concepts) and these representations of memory are accessed independently. Thus a child who has not yet attained the conservation of number rarely has the conceptual framework that is needed for a one-to-one correspondence since they lack the conceptual framework, (Gallagher, J.M. & Reid, D.K. 1981).. At a later time when the child is not able to accurately carry out math operations, an impression of memory deficit may most likely be the first impression. But the main problem maybe that the child has not yet attained the developmental stage that is required to understand the mathematical concepts. It is in such circumstances that the child may only store verbatim memories and fail to do the same for the conceptual knowledge, gist memory.
Necessary interventions in this case suggest that one ought to be very sure that the concrete operations level is emerging. If this is not the case, the child may most likely be in the pre-operational thinking stage which is also the intuitive level. The necessary interventions can be aimed at helping the child accelerate moving from intuitive stage towards the concrete stage. A good example is at the age of four, which is generally regarded as the stage of ‘why’ where the course-effect thinking is learnt in details. Worth noting is that some of the primary school-age children whom have not yet attained the level of being intuitive thinkers usually get on to ‘why stage’ one or two years later and may thus have not had the opportunity of having the questioning behavior reinforced, (Flavell 1963).
Students are also known to experience problems with comprehension. The frequent complaint are usually at the 4th grade all the way to the eighth grade. The difficult maybe complex but with the application of Piagetian theory it is possible to determine whether the student did manage to attain the necessary developmental stages to be able to comprehend different concepts that do involve some partially overlapping sets of information. Though the international model age for attaining classification task as age 9, an upward variance is usually observed. Most of the upper elementary science, literary concepts and social sciences involve also mental manipulation.
Usually students gain the attention of the school psychologists due t issues that are associated social behavior.
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