Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget, best known for his work in developmental psychology, was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on August 9, 1896. As a child, Piaget found his mother to be neurotic which led him to an interest in psychology. As the oldest child, Piaget was very independent and at the age of ten he published his first scientific paper on the albino sparrow allegedly to convince the librarian he was not a “child”. In Piaget’s adolescence his mother urged him to study religion which he found to be childish. Instead, he decided to devote his time to discovering the “biological explanation of knowledge”through the study of philosophy and the application of logic. This failed Piaget in his quest for answers, and he turned his focus to psychology. In 1918, Piaget graduated with his Doctorate in Science from the University of Neuchâtel. While teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris, he met Alfred Binet and began working with him evaluating children’s intelligence tests. Piaget was not concerned with the right or wrong answers of the child, but was instead fascinated that certain errors occurred at predictable ages and began focusing on how children reasoned. In 1923, he married Valentine Châtenay and had three children with her. Piaget’s children immediately became the focus of intense observation and research and resulted in three more books (http://www.nndb.com/people/359/000094077/, 2010).
Jean Piaget designed a model explaining how humans make sense of the world around them through collecting and organizing information from experiences with people, objects, and ideas. This was called the Theory of Cognitive Development. Piaget identified four factors; maturation, action on your environment, learning from others or social transmission, and searching for a balance or equilibrium that influence the way thinking and knowledge are developed. He also theorized that all species inherit the tendencies to organize thoughts and behaviors while adapting to his/her environment. Organization of thoughts and actions that allow a person to mentally “think about” events or objects are called schemes. Adaption of knowledge and thinking processes involves assimilation or incorporating new information into existing schemes, as well as changing existing schemes to respond to a new situation or accommodating. Piaget also believed that as young people develop they pass through four stages. The first stage of cognitive development, which occurs between the ages of birth to two years, is called the Sensorimotor stage. In this stage, the child uses his/her five senses and motor abilities to comprehend the world around them. The child also distinguishes his/her self from objects and begins to act intentionally towards a goal. Object permanence is also achieved at this stage. The second stage is called the Preoperational stage and occurs between the ages of two to seven years. In this stage, the child begins to develop the ability to form and use symbols as well as think operations through logically in one direction. Egocentrism also dominates the child’s thinking and language during this time. The third stage of cognitive development is between the ages of seven to eleven years is called the Concrete-Operational stage. The characteristics of this stage are the ability to solve concrete tangible problems logically, the ability to demonstrate conservation, the mastery of grouping objects into categories based on characteristics, reversible thinking, and sequentially arranging objects according to weight, size and volume. The final stage of cognitive development, called Formal Operations, occurs from eleven years through adulthood. In this final stage, the adolescent becomes extremely focused on analyzing their own attitudes and beliefs while not denying that others may have different perceptions. The ability of an adolescent to think hypothetically, considering all possible combinations and choices, while reasoning deductively are other characteristics of this stage as well (Woolfolk, 2008).
In Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development, the Preoperational stage would be the most noteworthy to me since this is the age range I will be teaching in elementary school. It is necessary to teach children in an active discovery learning environment, encouraging them to question, explore, manipulate, and search out answers on their own. This theory teaches me that as an educator, I must also be an observer in my classroom. I must carefully assess my student’s current stage of development, cognitive level, as well as strength and weaknesses, while tailoring a set of tasks and curriculum that is specific to each child’s needs. Piaget’s theory is also beneficial to me because it teaches me that I will need to focus on the learning process of my students, rather than the end product. This theory also tells me that intelligence grows through assimilation and accommodation; therefore, I must provide many opportunities for my student to experience both.
This theory can help me better understand my kindergarten students because I will be knowledgeable to their skill acquisition at certain ages. It will also guide my teaching strategies as well as help me design lesson plans and activities based on my preoperational students ability levels, while not causing frustration. According to Piaget, the characteristic of egocentrism is often seen in preoperational children. To combat this, I would provide my students with opportunities to work in groups, so they can learn from each other, participate, and be productive at their own pace.
A basic understanding of Piaget’s theory could tremendously benefit parents, by knowing when to introduce new skills to his/her child in order to maximize understanding and success. I would recommend that parents observe his/her child, to make sure that what they are teaching is appropriate for their child’s present stage of learning. Avoid stressing standardized learning such as committing rules and facts to memory and instead choosing constructive hands-on experimentation. I would also advise parents to allow active learning through game playing, exploring, and drawing. When giving directions to their child, I would suggest keeping things short and simple. To help a child getting ready for school in the morning, I would recommend having a clock with hands in his/her room. The child does not have a sense of time at this age. The parent should tell the child that when this hand points to this number, have your clothes on and be ready. I would also suggest for parents to talk to his/her child about their experiences and constantly engage them with questions about what they are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting.
As a teacher with students in the preoperational stage, I must remember that my students may or may not reach each of Piaget’s stages at the predetermined age assigned since each child develops individually. It is essential to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to experience new things. This will help them continuously build on his/her foundation of language and learning. Learning at the preoperational stage, takes place by the student constructing new schemas through knowledge discovered in hands-on learning. Lesson plans should include hands-on activities, field trips, and learning games with props or visual aids. Hands-on environments should be set up in your classroom with different stations to learn math, science, social studies, etc. To teach math, I would use colored chips or even pennies for counting, adding and subtracting. To teach science, I could use a magnifying glass to see how objects such as pictures of snowflakes are the same or different from each other. When taking field trips to places such as science museums or the zoo, I would constantly ask questions about what my students are experiencing. To assess the skills that my students are acquiring, I could use portfolios, group presentations, and demonstrations that would let my students explain his/her learning process to me.
NNDB: Tracking the entire world. (2010, February 9). Retrieved February 10, 2010, from http://www.nndb.com/people/359/000094077/.
Woolfolk, A. (2008) Educational psychology: Active learning edition. Personal, moral, and social development (pp. 36-45).