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.
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.
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How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html