Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Meet Your ECE Theorists: Piaget!

Series Overview: This series aims to introduce our early childhood giants who helped shape our understanding of children and their development. The articles hope to not only give an overview of theories, but to also provide connections to everyday classroom practice.  

Who is Jean Piaget?
All information are from Archives Jean Piaget.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist and epistemologist whose works in developmental psychology and genetic epistemology continue to influence the fields of psychology, sociology, education, epistemology, economics, and law. Throughout his career, he sought to answer an important question: how does knowledge grow? Through extensive research, he came to the conclusion that knowledge grows through a progressive construction of mental processes that build on one another and result from maturation and environmental influences. This implies that children's logic and ways of thinking are entirely different from those of adults. Piaget also believed that children learn by actively constructing an understanding of the world around them, and after experiencing discrepancies about what they know and what they discover, work to adjust their knowledge accordingly.

Understanding Piaget’s Theory
Since a comprehensive knowledge of Piagetian theory would require time and commitment, this article will focus on answering two questions: What does Piaget tell us about children’s development, and how do children gain knowledge?

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Piaget identified four stages in cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal.

The following table summarizes the four stages: 




Children learn using their five senses.

Children’s actions are goal-directed.

Children experience egocentrism, the inability to distinguish between self and others.
 Towards the end of this stage, infants acquire the concept of object permanence, which is the awareness that an object continues to exist even when it is not in view. 
Children start developing language.

Parallel and pretend play characterize children’s play.

Children struggle with centration, focusing on only one aspect of a situation at one time, and conservation, unable to grasp that a certain quantity will remain the same regardless of container or shape,

Children continue to be egocentric.
concrete operational
Children’s thinking starts to become rational and organized.

Children begin to follow rules but can only apply logic to physical and concrete objects.

Concrete operations include conservation, decentering, transitivity, seriation, classification, and reversibility.
formal operational
Adolescents are able to think in an abstract manner by manipulating ideas in their head. 

Adolescents are able to generate predicitions about the world and approach problems in a systematic and organized way.

Adolescents can think about hypothetical and abstract concepts, even those they haven’t experienced.

Growing Knowledge 

Piaget believed that children gain knowledge in the process of adapting to their environment. Through assimilation, a child takes in new information or experiences. A child in the sensorimotor stage who is in the process of assimilation continually reaches out, touches, and tastes accessible elements in the environment. Through this exploration, the child gets to know the world. Eventually, the child will encounter information or experiences that are contradictory to what he knows, resulting in disequilibration. For example, for very young children, all four-legged animals can be classified as “doggie”. When the child is informed that a particular four-footed animal is not a dog but a cow or a horse, a resolution -- a finer differentiation, a new classification – must be made to accommodate this new knowledge and to reconcile this information with he previously knew. According to Piaget’s theory, the child seeks equilibration and resolves the problem through a process of accommodation. Through the lifelong processes of assimilation, accommodation and equilibration, children’s knowledge of the world continues to grow and develop.

Piaget in the Classroom 
Piaget’s stages of cognitive development emphasize the need to consider the individual maturation of a child. For teachers, it is important to remember that mastery occurs at different paces and is rooted in a child’s development and their own sense of understanding. Teachers must be aware of what children at a particular stage can do and provide opportunities that will support the different learners in the classroom and are appropriate to their development stage. For example, as younger children benefit from sensory experiences, teachers can use objects that children can touch, taste, and smell; put toys that have different textures and colors; and consciously use language to coordinate with the sensory input. For younger school children who are in the preoperational stage, teachers should note that these learners still need concrete reinforcement and use manipulatives to introduce math concepts or provide pictures when introducing a new word.  Remembering that children are constantly in a process of working toward equilibration through assimilation and accommodation provide guidelines for teaching concepts: start by tapping into what children know, allow students to make connections, be sensitive to children’s disequilibration, and give them time and opportunity to think!

Think About It
This is probably not the first time you’ve encountered Jean Piaget. We’d love to hear about what you think or how Piaget is alive in your classroom! Here are some questions you can discuss with your peers or even post your answers in the comments section.
                Think Piaget: How does knowledge grow?
                What are parts of Piaget’s theory do you believe in? 
                What do you disagree with?
                How do you incorporate Piaget's ideas in your classroom?


Bjorklund, D. F., & Causey, K. B. (2017). Children's thinking: Cognitive development and individual 
     differences. SAGE Publications.

Blake, B. and Pope, P.(2008). Developmental psychology: Incorporating Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s
       Theories in Classrooms. Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education, 1, 59-67.

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