Every interaction and experience has an impact on development in early childhood. This was discovered by Swiss psychologist and biologist, Jean Piaget when he researched, studied and developed his theory of cognitive development.
Part of his research led to the idea that every interaction establishes the cognitive structure of children. This is vital in the classroom scenario. Piaget constructed his modes of understanding children through direct observation. He was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development. His theories have had a great impact on educational theory and are used in the best schools in Lebanon.
His special insight was that children cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so. The primary nature of his theory was toidentify certain stages of development, which permitted children to learn better. He identified these transitions to take place at 18 months, 7 years and 11-12 years. Before these ages, children cannot understand concepts in certain ways.
The theories of the development of Jean Piaget focused on structure. The structure concept introduced four stages of development:
- Sensorimotor stage- 0 to 2 years- thought, memory, and imitation begin to be used
- Preoperational stage-2 to 7 years- recognizing the symbolic form and language development
- Concrete operational stage- 7 to 11 years-ability to solve hands-on problems using logic
- Formal operational stage- 11 to 15 years-ability to solve abstract problems using logic.
Applications in Classroom
Following steps can be used in the classroom to structure development:
- Use visual aids and concrete props whenever possible
- Use short instructions with words or actions
- Don’t expect kids always to view the world with other’s perspectives
- Be open to the possibility that words can have different meanings to kids and they may even invent words.
- Give kids much hands-on practice with skills which they can build upon for more complex skills.
- Provide a wide variety of experiences to construct the foundation for language and concept learning.
To Piaget, cognitive development implied a progressive re-organization of mental processes because of environmental experience and biological maturation. He introduced the following concepts about cognitive development:
They are basic building blocks of cognitive models (mental models) which help us build a mental representation of the world. According to Piaget, the schema is the basic building block of intelligent behaviour. It refers to actions, objects and abstract concepts. With mental development, schemas became more complex. Piaget suggested that we store these schemas and apply them when required.
Assimilation and Accommodation
Assimilation refers to using an existing schema to deal with a new situation or object. Accommodation occurs when existing schema (knowledge) fails to work and needs to be altered to deal with anew object or situation.
Equilibration is the force which eggs on development. Piaget believed that cognitive development did not advance at a steady rate but in leaps and bounds. Equilibrium happens when a child’s schema can deal with most new information via assimilation. But an unpleasant state of disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot fit into existing schemas.
Piaget has been highly influential in impacting teaching practice and educational policy. Central to the transformation of the curriculum in primary school was the notion of discovery learning- that children learn best via doing and actively exploring.