Jean Piaget was born in 1896 in the French-speaking Swiss city of Neuchatel to an “agnostic medievalist” and a religious mother with “socialist leanings”. He became a professional in mollusk classification and was published in specialized journals. After a doctoral thesis on the taxonomy of Alpine mollusks, in 1918, and studies in psychology and philosophy in Zurich and Paris, he joined the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute of Geneva, in 1921. The Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute was a center for research on child development and education.
He later taught experimental and developmental psychology, sociology, and history and philosophy of science, mostly at the University of Geneva. From 1929-1967, Piaget directed the International Bureau of Education, originally established to coordinate educational information and research, and to promote peace and international understanding through education. In 1955, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, he created the interdisciplinary International Center for Genetic Epistemology (which closed in 1984).
After his discovery in 1912 of Creative Evolution, by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Piaget became interested in the nature of life and evolution, although he rejected the Darwinian theory of natural selection and adopted the basic postulate of his later thought: the idea that the theory of knowledge and the theory of life are inseparable. One of Piaget’s earlier writings, from 1918, was called, Recherche, was an autobiographical novel and philosophical essay. In Recherche, Piaget sketched a theory of organic, philosophical , and social phenomena based on the idea of equilibrium between parts and wholes.
Real-life dis-equilibria (within a society, for example, between individual and collective interests) tend toward an ideal equilibrium that preserves the integrity of parts and wholes alike. Piaget studied the growth of intelligence, by which term he meant chiefly the capacities, structures, and notions that make scientific thought possible. He described development as a sequence of stages from birth through adolescence. The stages appear at variable ages in different cultures and settings, but their order is invariable.
This stage theory is one of the best known stage theories that describes four qualitatively different stages of cognitive development. These four stages are: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal. As the stages progress, the thinking of the child changes in ways that involve more than the addition of knowledge and skills. “According to Piaget’s stage theory, all the explanation and practice in the world will not help a child functioning at one stage to understand the ways of thinking at a higher stage.
Piaget’s stage theory model describes how humans make sense of their world by gathering and organizing information. According to Piaget, “certain ways of thinking that are quite simple for an adult, are not so simple for a child”. In the early 1920’s, Piaget came up with a “clinical method” that combined the use of items from intelligence tests, new problem-solving situations, and open-ended conversations with school-age children. He studied the child’s language, reasoning, conceptions of the world, theories of causality, and moral judgment.
Piaget considered the development of intelligence as a process of “socialization of thought”, and he attributed great developmental import to social interactions among peers and between children and adults. Piaget found that children at are at first “egocentric” (ie, experienced difficulty to take another person’s point of view) and attached to concrete appearances but the children gradually moved away from egocentrism and became capable of thinking abstractly and logically.
Earlier studies of children done by Piaget, studied mainly the content of the child’s mind and took into account age-related behaviors. These studies that Piaget conducted concentrated on the main features of the child’s “mentality” in doing these tasks. Piaget saw a different role for interaction. He believed that interaction encouraged development by creating disequilibrium – that cognitive conflict helped to motivate change.
He believed that the most helpful interactions were those between peers, because peers are on an equal basis and can challenge each others thinking. As Piaget said, “to go beyond his current state and strike out in new directions”. In Piaget’s writing, The Construction of Reality (1937), he describes how basic forms of intentionality and the categories of object, space, causality, and time evolve, during the sensorimotor period, between the newborn’s reflex activities and the development of language at about 18 months.
Piaget defined human intelligence as a form of adaptation that “prolongs organic adaptation and functions according to the same mechanisms, “assimilation” and “accommodation”. Piaget later termed his approach constructivist because he assumes that the concepts and structures of intelligence are successively constructed and reconstructed by means of the physical and mental activities which an organism uses to adapt to the external world.
In Piaget’s later work, he created the idea or concept of mental development and the history of science as a process of “equilibration toward an increasingly larger capacity for assimilating the world”. Piaget’s work encouraged the belief that instruction must adapt to the child’s developmental level, had direct impact on moral and science education, and also helped to inspire remedial procedures. Piaget continues to remain a major reference in developmental psychology, especially in educational psychology.
It was Piaget’s research techniques, formulation of new problems, insightful observations, and his emphasis on the development of cognitive capacities that helped contribute in fundamental ways to shape the contemporary child and cognitive psychology. There are many ways that Piaget ‘s theory of cognitive development and learning can be useful within the classroom setting. For students who are in the Preoperational stage (2-7 years of age), you should make instructions short-not too many steps all at once.
As a teacher, it is also important to demonstrate actions and instructions out for students to also be able to visualize. At this stage, it is also important to have plenty of hands-on practice with skills such as cutting out letters of the alphabet so that the students can see the shape of them, and also use the letters to help form words. For students who are in the Concrete-Operational stage (7-11 years of age), it is still important to use visual aids and props when teaching. One good way to do this is with three-dimensional models that work and show movement ideas.
Another good way to help teach students in this stage would be to read a story or book to the class and have the students personalize the story by asking them open-ended questions that would help to stimulate their thinking, as well as, help to stimulate their logical and analytical thinking skills For students who are in the Formal Operations stage (11years of age-adult), you want to continue to use concrete-operational teaching strategies such as charts, illustrations, more sophisticated graphs and diagrams.
A good way to challenge and encourage students in this stage would be to give them opportunities to solve problems and reason scientifically by having classroom debates where there are two different positions on a subject. Another way to encourage thinking skills in this stage would be to have the students compare the experiences of characters in stories and movies to their own experiences in life.