Piaget and Vygotsky's Theories

Concrete operational stage (7-11 years) is the third stage where Piaget believed that children are unable to conserve and classify. Piaget found that young children had difficulty with the idea of classification (Jarvis. 2000). In order to support his belief Piaget devised three different experiments. Firstly he took three glasses all of which could hold the same amounts of liquid. Two of the glasses were identical whilst the third was tall and slender. It was found that the children of five years could not grasp the concept that there was the same amount of liquid in all of the glasses whereas seven year olds understood this.

To check if children understood conservation of number counters were placed onto a table in two rows, which to begin looked identical in length and had the same number of counters. After Piaget spread his row of counters out he discovered that whilst most seven year olds could correctly distinguish that there were still the same number of counters younger children believed that there were more counters in the row, which had been spread out.

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The final experiment involved flowers. Children were shown four red and two white flowers. In order to see if the children could correctly classify that there were six flowers Piaget asked the question ‘are there more red flowers or more flowers?’ to which he found that most five year olds believed that there were more red flowers. He then concluded that children would focus on one aspect being either class or sub-class.

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All of these experiments have been challenged firstly Susan Rose and Marion Blank (1974) argued that by repeating the question after a wrong answer hints that the first answer is wrong. After repeating this experiment and asking the question just once Susan Rose and Marion Blank found more children gave the correct answer. James McGarrigle and Margaret Donaldson (1974) believed that as the adult changes the formation of the counters in the conservation task children will think that the alteration is important and therefore after altering the experiment and using a teddy to take a sweet away they found that most of the children answered correctly. An experiment devised by James McGarrigle using three black cows and one white cow found that by revising the question to ask if there are more black cows or more sleeping cows children were more likely to answer correctly as emphasis is being placed on the cows as a whole class.

The final stage of Piaget’s theory is the formal operational stage (12 years+). By this stage children should be developing the ability to view the world in a more abstract way, be able to solve problems by deductive logic and be able to solve more complex problems with combinational logic (Meggitt. 2000). To understand if this assumption is correct Piaget devised a test using string and a set of weights the aim of the task was for the child to discover which factor affected the time that the pendulum took to complete one swing. The findings showed that children in the formal operational stage were able to systematically solve the task whereas younger children would randomly test the weights and string.

Critics such as Robert Siegler (1979) found that when the experiment was revised using a balance beam and discs and asking children to predict the outcome he found that although the children eventually understood the relationship between weight and distance he concluded that the children were older than Piaget had suggested. An admirer of Piaget was Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) who agreed that cognitive development takes place in stages although he disagreed that the child should be left to explore the world alone (Jarvis. 2000). Vygotsky placed emphasis on social interaction with adults and the fact that the child is an apprentice who needs help and guidance from people that are more competent providing scaffolding until the child is capable of achieving their goals.

Features within Vygotsky’s theory include the idea that there is interrelationship between thought and language, it is suggested that children’s internalised language is not developed and so use external monologue until they develop the ability to internalise their language (Meggitt. 2000). What this is suggesting is that when children are speaking out load commenting on the processes in which they are doing it is due to the internal language not being fully developed. Vygotsky devised the term zone of proximal development (ZPD) this is a concept, which relates to the difference between what children can do independently and what they can achieve when being guided by an adult (Simply. 2010). Unlike Piaget Vygotsky emphasised the importance of instruction from other people in order for children to reach their full potential (Jarvis. 2000).

Another way in which Vygotsky believed that children could reach their ZPD was through play; he believed that this was another important role in providing foundations for children’s development of skills essential for successful cognitive development. Although Piaget’s theories are widely accepted as it gave education the tools, following the Plowden Report, to enthusiastically put into practice many of Piaget’s ideas (Jarvis. 2000) there are also some problems that present themselves throughout his theory and stages. Critics found that children did in fact understand more than Piaget first found and that it was due to weaknesses in the research methods that results suggested otherwise.

Nobody has actually fully disagreed with Piaget’s suggestions; critics just believe that the ages have been underestimated. His theory has generated research, which has lead to a better understanding and has been influential for many years. Unlike Piaget Vygotsky’s intention was to apply his ideas to education along with Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner also wanted to get his ideas into education. Bruner believed like Piaget that children learn through discovering for themselves and having materials freely available although his theory is mainly based on Vygotsky’s ZPD and his theory being known as scaffolding (Green. 2002). As Vygotsky proposed that peers have an important influence on children’s cognitive development Bennett and Dunn (1992) investigated the effects of group work within primary children. Results showed that children that had been working in groups showed better language and an advanced way of thinking compared to the children who had worked alone (Jarvis. 2000).

To conclude Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner all believe that cognitive development follows stages of some sort. Critics against Piaget suggest that he underestimated the ages in which children reach the stages and so making Vygotsky’s ideas become more popular although Piaget’s theory has been part of the foundation of constructivist learning (Huitt. 2003). Piaget does not consider social roles and how this may impact on a child’s cognitive development whereas Vygotsky ensures that society plays a major role in his theory. Bruner’s theory supports Vygotsky and has developed his theory of scaffolding also as it does not state any ages it makes it more flexible. Both Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories have been successfully applied to education.

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Piaget and Vygotsky's Theories. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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