Jean Piaget is often quoted to have pioneered research in cognitive development (Hayes, 1998). The constructivist theory is a subset of the cognitivist theories. It is based on the learner –centred theories that emphases on the need to provide learners with responsibility for directing their own learning experiences. Schemata, assimilation and accommodation are some of the primary concepts in understanding the Constructivist theory of cognitive development. The other central features apart from three principles are the notions of equilibration and disequilibrium.
This essay will briefly define the principles of schemata, assimilation and accommodation. It will also explain the importance of equilibration and disequilibrium in cognitive development. Schemata according to Dembo (1991) are cognitive structures that are formed through the obstruction of one’s earlier experience. It is stated that children are born with very f few innate schemata and that they keep on creating new ones as they interact with the environment.
Hayes (1998) adds that schemata should be understood as “a theoretical construct which is generally understood as the being an internalized representation of the world, or at least some part of the world. ” p. 473. Schemata therefore relate to specific bit of activity, and summarises the stored knowledge and experiences related to such an activity. All human thinking is centred on schemata that develop throughout an individual’s life through the process of adaptation.
Adaptation involves organisms responding to the changes in their respective surroundings and situations. In essence, adaptation is achieved through assimilation and accommodation. The principle of assimilation refers to a process of making sense of the experiences and perceptions by fitting them into previously established cognitive structures. In other words, what is perceived by a person is altered so that it fits present cognitive schemata (Gage, 1998).
Assimilation is said to have occurred when a person perceives a new event or object in terms of an n existing schemas. That is to say, person applies any mental structure that is available to assimilate a new object or event and actively seek to utilize this newly acquired mental structure. On the other hand, the theory of accommodation simply refers to the process of changing internal schemata to provide consistency with external reality. It happens when existing schemas are modified or new ones are created to account for a new experience.
According to Borick and Tombari (1995) if a person succeeds in changing the existing schemata in order to understand a new event, object, information or experience is said to have undergone the process of accommodation. From it can therefore be inferred that accommodation influences assimilation in a certain way and vice versa. As a reality is assimilated, structures are accommodated. Cognitive development is a lifelong process that involves the creation and/or the development of schemata through the operation of principles explained above.
The term that explains the operation of assimilation and accommodation, which can occur concurrently is called the process of Equilibration. Equilibration is defined as “the biological drive to produce an optimal state of equilibrium between people’s cognitive structures and their environment” (Duncan, 1995 as cited on http://www. coe. uga. edu/epiltt/pigeat. htm ) . It is an attempt to bring about a state of equilibrium between the other three factors and is very vital for cognitive development. It involves assimilation and accommodation (Russell, Jarvis &Gorman, 2004).
This process is very significant because it is through equilibration that people develop their cognitive structures. This occurs as people conduct themselves in logical internal mental structures that allow them to make sense of the various phenomena in their surrounding environment. When the external reality does not match with the logical internal schemas or say when disequilibrium occurs, equilibration is there to come forth so as an effort to bring balance between assimilation and accommodation. In this way, organisms develop sophisticated schemas.
McLeod (2009) as cited on http://www. simplypsychology. org/piaget. html points out disequilibrium connotes an unpleasant state when new information cannot be fitted in the existing schemata. O’Donnel (2006) states that the theory of equilibration is important to the learning process. It suggests the need to stimulate conceptual change in someone by challenging students existing concepts in an effort to create cognitive disequilibrium. Students in turn strive to restore equilibrium there by acquiring new knowledge and skills for understanding the world or subject matter in a lesson.
Teachers should be able to engage students into unfamiliar areas in order to for them to learn. It suggests that students do not require studying things that they already know but that they can also accommodate new information (Dembo, 1991). However teacher need not to let learners over assimilate because it turns out boring. They should also not over accommodate students beyond their cognitive growth. In this ca se, it can be understood that equilibration is vital to the development of a child’s cognition as well as to the teaching and learning process.
Furthermore, the notion of equilibration is important because it indicates that learners are active thinkers who can understand the world on their own. Therefore teacher need to involve students in the learning processes and only act as facilitators in constructing knowledge. The understanding of the constructivist theory with the understanding of how equilibration works has led to emergence of teaching methods such as discovery methods. Teachers can create deliberate disequilibrium in students by asking questions about some illogical statements made by the Lerner.
As the learner reconciles his or her disequilibrium, their cognitive capacity develops. In conclusion, this paper has defined schemata as cognitive or mental structures that relate s to specific bit of an activity such as schemata for an object like a tree or more abstract notion like democracy. Jean Piaget contended that all thinking is centred on schemata (Hayes, 1998) and the number of a person schema continues to be constructed throughout a person’s life through the principles of assimilation and accommodation.
It has also been noted that the operation 0f these two principles constitutes the notion of equilibration. Equilibration is very important because it is the impetus for cognitive development that makes individuals acquires higher order thinking skills to adapt to the ever changing surrounding. It is through equilibration that people explore the environment and make mental representation of reality. This is so because equilibration improves the sophistication of schemas to create a mental representation of reality.
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