Category Archives: Piaget

Using Piaget and Vygotsky in the Classroom

This nine page article that underscores both the theory and practice of Piaget and Vygotsky:

Developmental Psychology: Incorporating Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theories in Classrooms Barbara Blake and Tambra Pope in Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education, Vol. 1, No. 1 (May 2008) 59 – 67. 


Generally, we can say, that students learn individually and collaboratively, and each approach depends on what needs to be learned or expanded upon. And, also generally, Piaget is focused on the individual learner while Vygotsky is focused on learners as a group. With this in mind, lessons may be planned using either Piaget or Vygotsky as models with assessable outcomes that depend on a lesson plan’s fidelity to the model selected.

In a practical sense, individual learning of new content adapts well to Piaget’s hands-on approach through the use of introductory direct instruction, teacher modeling, and then independent modeling by the student. When the student needs to enhance, expand, or adapt previous learning Vygotsky’s model may be appropriate through the use of group collaboration, project learning, and peer (and teacher) mentoring.

Understanding Piaget’s concepts of assimilation and accommodation apply also to Vygotsky’s model of proximity or ZPD and guide the classroom teacher is using either Piaget’s or Vygotsky’s models. For example, at the beginning of a unit using Piaget’s model of individual learning may be appropriate (here the concept of accommodation applies) while later in a unit Vygotsky’s model may be appropriate (here the concept of assimilation applies).      

Piaget: For our purposes, we are interested, generally, in the last two stages (concrete and formal operations) of Piaget’s theory. 

Sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years old) – The child, through physical interaction with his or her environment, builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. This is the stage where a child does not know that physical objects remain in existence even when out of sight (object permanence).

Preoperational stage (ages 2-7) – The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations.

Concrete operations (ages 7-11) – As physical experience accumulates, the child, now a student, starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects.

Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15) – By this point, the student’s cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning.


A difference exists between what a student can do on his or her own and what the student can do with help. Vygotsky called this difference the zone of proximal development (or ZPD).

  • Since much of what a student learns comes from the culture around a student, and much of the student’s problem solving is mediated through a more knowledgable student peer or an adult’s help, it is necessary to focus on students as members of a collaborative group.
  • Interactions with surrounding culture and social agents, such as parents and more competent peers, contribute significantly to a student’s intellectual development.

Curriculum: Since students learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks.

Instruction: With appropriate adult help, students can often perform tasks that they are incapable of completing on their own. With this in mind, scaffolding–-where the teacher continually adjusts the level of his or her help in response to students level of performance-–is an effective form of teaching. Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instills the skills necessary for independent problem solving in the future.

Assessment: Assessment methods must take into account the zone of proximal development. What students can do on their own is their level of actual development and what students can do with help is their level of potential development. Two students might have the same level of actual development, but given the appropriate help from a teacher, one might be able to solve many more problems than the other. Assessment methods must target both the level of actual development and the level of potential development.


Jean Piaget and Biological Stages of Development

piaget-adaptation cycle

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Piaget’s Stages of Development

Piaget believed that children go through 4 universal stages of cognitive development. A child’s cognitive development is about a child constructing a mental model of the world.

Development is biologically based and changes as the child matures.

Each child goes through the stages in the same order, and no stage can be missed out – although some individuals may never attain the later stages. There are individual differences in the rate at which children progress through stages.

Piaget did not claim that a particular stage was reached at a certain age – although descriptions of the stages often include an indication of the age at which the average child would reach each stage.

Sensorimotor Stage (Birth-2 yrs)

The main achievement during this stage is object permanence – knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden.

It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object.

Preoperational Stage (2-7 years)

During this stage, young children are able to think about things symbolically. This is the ability to make one thing – a word or an object – stand for something other than itself.

Thinking is still egocentric, and the infant has difficulty taking the viewpoint of others.

Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)

Piaget considered the concrete stage a major turning point in the child’s cognitive development, because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought.

This means the child can work things out internally in their head (rather than physically try things out in the real world).

Children can conserve number (age 6), mass (age 7), and weight (age 9). Conservation is the understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes

Formal Operational Stage (11 years and over)

The formal operational stage begins at approximately age eleven and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts, and logically test hypotheses.

Educational Implications

Piaget (1952) did not explicitly relate his theory to education, although later researchers have explained how features of Piaget’s theory can be applied to teaching and learning.

Piaget has been extremely influential in developing educational policy and teaching practice. For example, a review of primary education by the UK government in 1966 was based strongly on Piaget’s theory. The result of this review led to the publication of the Plowden report (1967).

Discovery learning – the idea that children learn best through doing and actively exploring – was seen as central to the transformation of the primary school curriculum.

‘The report’s recurring themes are individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, the centrality of play in children’s learning, the use of the environment, learning by discovery and the importance of the evaluation of children’s progress – teachers should ‘not assume that only what is measurable is valuable.’

Because Piaget’s theory is based upon biological maturation and stages, the notion of ‘readiness’ is important. Readiness concerns when certain information or concepts should be taught. According to Piaget’s theory children should not be taught certain concepts until they have reached the appropriate stage of cognitive development.

According to Piaget (1958), assimilation and accommodation require an active learner, not a passive one, because problem-solving skills cannot be taught, they must be discovered.

Within the classroom learning should be student centered a accomplished through active discovery learning. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning, rather than direct tuition. Therefore, teachers should encourage the following within the classroom:

  • Focus on the process of learning, rather than the end product of it.
  • Using active methods that require rediscovering or reconstructing “truths”.
  • Using collaborative, as well as individual activities (so children can learn from each other).
  • Devising situations that present useful problems, and create disequilibrium in the child.
  • Evaluate the level of the child’s development, so suitable tasks can be set.

For additional reading, graphics, and a video go to Simply Psychology.


Baillargeon, R., & DeVos, J. (1991). Object permanence in young infants: Further evidence. Child development, 1227-1246.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belkapp Press.

Central Advisory Council for Education (1967). Children and their Primary Schools (‘The Plowden Report’), London: HMSO.

Dasen, P. (1994). Culture and cognitive development from a Piagetian perspective. In W .J. Lonner & R.S. Malpass (Eds.), Psychology and culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Hughes , M. (1975). Egocentrism in preschool children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Edinburgh University.

Keating, D. (1979). Adolescent thinking. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent psychology, pp. 211-246. New York: Wiley.

Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1936). Origins of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1945). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. London: Heinemann.

Piaget, J. (1957). Construction of reality in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence.AMC, 10, 12.

Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.

Siegler, R. S., DeLoache, J. S., & Eisenberg, N. (2003). How children develop. New York: Worth.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wadsworth, B. J. (2004). Piaget’s theory of cognitive and affective development: Foundations of constructivism. Longman Publishing.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2015). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from