Piaget & Vygotsky Piaget and Vygotsky Theories of Cognitive Development Everyday life is characterized by conscious purpose. From reaching for food to designing an experiment, our actions are directed at goals. This purpose reveals itself partly in our conscious awareness and partly in the organization of our thoughts and actions. Cognition is the process involved in thinking and mental activity, such as attention, memory and problem solving. Much past and present theory has emphasized the parallels between the articulated prepositional structure of language and the structure of an internal code or language of thought. In this paper I will discuss language and cognition and two famous theorist who were both influential in forming a more scientific approach to analyzing the process of cognitive development. Jean Piaget There are those that say that Jean Piaget was the first to take childrens thinking seriously.
Although Piaget never thought of himself as a child psychologist his real interest was epistemology, the theory of knowledge, which, like physics, was considered a branch of philosophy until Piaget came along and made it a science (2000). Children and their reasoning process fascinated Piaget. He began to suspect that observing how the childs mind develops might discover the key to human knowledge. Piagets insight opened a new window into the inner workings of the mind. Jean Piaget has made major theoretical and practical contributions to our understanding of the origins and evolution of knowledge.
Stages of Childhood Development In his work Piaget identified stages of mental growth. He theorized that all children progressed through stages of cognitive development. He discovered that children think and reason differently at different periods in their lives. Piaget believed that everyone passed through a sequence of four qualitatively distinct stages. They are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational.
In the sensorimotor stage, occurring from birth to age 2, the child is concerned with gaining motor control and learning about physical objects. This stage promotes that thought is based primarily on action. Every time an infant does any action such as holding a bottle or learning to turn over, they are learning more about their bodies and how it relates to them and their environment. Piaget maintains that there are six sub-stages in the sensorimotor stage although children pass through three major achievements. In the preoperational stage, from ages 2 to 7, the child is preoccupied with verbal skills.
At this point the child can name objects and reason intuitively. Piaget has divided this stage into the preoperational phase and the intuitive phase. In the preoperational phase children use language and try to make sense of the world but have a much less sophisticated mode of thought than adults. They need to test thoughts with reality on a daily basis and do not appear to be able to learn from generalizations made by adults. In the intuitive phase the child slowly moves away from drawing conclusions based solely on concrete experiences with objects. However, the conclusions drawn are based on rather vague impressions and perceptual judgments. It becomes possible to carry on a conversation with a child.
Children develop the ability to classify objects on the basis of different criteria. At this stage children learn to count and use the concept of numbers. In the concrete operational stage, from ages 7 to 12, the child begins to deal with abstract concepts such as numbers and relationships. It is here that children learn mastery of classes, relations, numbers and how to reason. In this stage a person can do mental operations but only with real concrete objects, events or situations.
Logical reasons are understood. For example, a concrete operational person can understand the need to go to bed early when it is necessary to rise early the next morning. A pre-operational child, on the other hand, does not understand this logic and substitutes the psychological reason, I want to stay up. Finally, in the formal operational stage, age 12 to 15, the child begins to reason logically and systematically. The last stage deals with the mastery of thought (Evans, 1973).
A formal operational thinker can do abstract thinking and starts to enjoy abstract thought. The formal operational thinker is able to think ahead to plan the solution path. Finally, the formal operational person is capable of meta-cognition, that is, thinking about thinking. A central component of Piagets developmental theory of learning and thinking is that both involve the participation of the learner. Knowledge is not merely transmitted verbally but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner.
Piaget asserted that for a child to know and construct knowledge of the world the child must act on objects and it is this action that provides knowledge of those objects (Sigel, 1977). The ability to learn any cognitive content is always related to their stage of intellectual development. Children who are at a certain stage cannot be taught the concepts of a higher stage. Intellectual growth involves three fundamental processes: assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. Assimilation involves the incorporation of new events into pre-existing cognitive structures. Accommodation means existing structures change to accommodate to the new information.
This dual process, assimilation-accommodation, enables the child to form schema. Equilibration involves the person striking a balance between himself and the environment, between assimilation and accommodation. When a child experiences a new event, disequilibrium sets in until he is able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium. There are many types of equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation that vary with the levels of development and the problems to be solved. For Piaget, equilibration is the major factor in explaining why some children advance more quickly in the development of logical intelligence than do others (Lavatelli, 1973 pg 40).
About Lev Vygotsky Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and philosopher in the 1930s, is most often associated with the social constructivist theory. He emphasizes the influences of cultural and social contexts in learning and supports a discovery model of learning. This type of model places the teacher in an active role while the students mental abilities develop naturally through various paths of discovery. He argued for the inclusion within psychology of the study of consciousness, however he rejected introspection as a method. He maintained that a study of the mind, as opposed to just behavior, was necessary to distinguish human beings from lower animals.
There are some interesting facts about Lev Vygotsky. One fact is that he was one of the earliest critics of Piaget’s theory. Another fact is that he died at age thirty-three from tuberculosis cutting his career short. And finally, his works were banned in Russia until after his death because of his reference to western culture. Piagets theories maintained that there could be no understanding of a child’s development if there was no understanding of the culture that child was raised under.
He believed that thinking patterns are not totally due to our biology; they are products of our interactions in cultural situations and other social activities. He believed that the history of the child and the history of the child’s culture must be understood to understand the child. That cognitive development occurs when children internalize the tools that are taught through the social interactions. It is through social activities that children learn cultural tools and social inventions. These include language, counting systems, writing, art, and music. Vygotsky maintained that adults have the responsibility to share their greater collective knowledge with the younger generations.
Vygotskys theories had three general claims: (a) The claim that human social and psychological processes are fundamentally shaped by cultural tools; (b) The claim that higher mental functioning in the individual emerges out of social processes; and (c) the developmental method Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the concept that the potential of the child is limited to a specific time span. According to Vygotskys theory the Zone of Proximal Development problem-solving skills of tasks can be placed into three categories. These are as follows: (a) those performed independently by the student; (b) those that cannot be performed even with help; and (c) those that fall between the two extremes, the tasks that can be performed with help from others. Vygotskys ZPD emphasizes his belief that learning is, fundamentally, a socially mediated activity. There are two parts to ZPD, scaffolding and subjectivity.
Scaffolding is the help given to a child that supports the childs learning. Scaffolding is similar to scaffolding around a building; it can be taken away after the need for it has ended. When a child is shown how to do something and, can now, accomplish this task on its own. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is the arrival at a point of shared understanding, especially when two individuals have had differing viewpoints on an issue. The people around the student greatly affect the way he or she sees the world.
The type and quality of these tools (i.e. people) surrounding the child greatly determine the pattern and rate of development of the child. Arguments and Comparisons Egocentric speech is contrasted with socialized speech. In other words it is non-social, non-communicative to others. It is spoken for the sake of saying it. It is usually found in three to five year olds. Egocentric speech is split into three categories.
They are repetition, monologue (thinking aloud) and dual/collective monologue. Vygotsky argues that speech moves from communicative social speech to inner egocentric speech. Piaget proposes the opposite. He believes that children begin by voicing a personal dialogue and move to social speech. Piaget argues that egocentric speech goes away with maturity while Vygotsky claims that it becomes internalized as an adult.
Vygotsky found that a child spoke egocentrically when he was grasping or remedying a situation. Comparisons of Piaget (PG) and Vygotsky (VG) beliefs on egocentric speech are as follows: (PG)- Development of thinking Language moves from individual to social. (VG)-Development of thinking Language moves from the social to the individual. (PG)- Egocentric Speech is simply an accompaniment to a childs actions (VG)- Egocentric speech is not accompaniment: it helps child to reason (PG)- Egocentric speech appears first, dies out and is replaced by socialized speech (VG) – Egocentric speech is not first: it gives voice to internalized social or inner speech. Egocentric speech doesnt wither; it evolves upwards into inner speech (PG) – Three key observations about egocentric speech It is audible and not whispered It occurs when a child thinks the others understand his egocentric talk It occurs when children act together on a task, not alone (VG)- His experiments seriously challenged Piagets three key observations about egocentric speech In Thought and Language, Vygotsky (1962) analyzed Piaget’s work. Vygotsky believed that Piaget had developed a clinical method that revolutionized the study of children’s language and thought. However, Vygotsky also asserted that there were some flaws in Piaget’s methods.
Piaget combined psychology and philosophy even though he tried to avoid theorizing. He overlooked the role of the child’s activity with relation to thought processes. Vygotsky also disagreed with Piaget’s assumption that development could not be impeded or accelerated through instruction. In summary, Vygotsky was critical of Piaget’s assumption that developmental growth was independent of experience and based on a universal characteristic of stages. Vygotsky believed that intellectual development was continually evolving without an end point and not completed in stages as Piaget theorized. Although Vygotsky was critical of Piaget, he realized the importance of the information that Piaget gathered. In spite of his criticisms, Vygotsky built his educational theories on the strengths of Piaget’s.
Bibliography References Evans, R. (1973). Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas. New York: E. P.
Dutton & Co., Inc Lavatelli, C. (1973). Piagets Theory Applied to an Early Childhood Curriculum. Boston: American Science and Engineering, Inc. Piaget, Jean, (2000) Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia http://encarta.msn.com 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation.
All rights reserved. Vygotsky, Lev (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press Psychology.