Before examining the topic in depth, I need to briefly recall the characters of the psychological world under study, in order to satisfy the need for a contextual frame. Jean Piaget was born in 1896 in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and died in September 1980 in Geneva. He studied in the Faculty of Science at the University of Neuchatel, where he obtained a Doctorate in Natural Sciences. He continued his studies in Zurich, developing an interest in psychoanalysis, before moving to Paris to work in the laboratory of Alfred Binet, where his studies focused on the development of intelligence. From 1940 to 1971 Piaget worked successively as Professor of Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy of Science, History of Scientific Thought and Experimental Psychology. He was the only Swiss professor ever invited to lecture at the Sorbonne, which he did from 1952 to 1963.
In 1955, Jean Piaget created the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology, which he directed until his death. His work in Genetic Psychology and Epistemology searched for an answer to the fundamental issue of knowledge building. His broad research on the topic of children’s thought developed into the theory that children’s logic not only builds up progressively following its own rules, but also develops in life through different stages before reaching adult’s levels. The key contribution of Jean Piaget to knowledge was showing that children have specific ways of thinking that distinguish them from adults. Jean Piaget was awarded over thirty titles of Doctor Honoris Causa by different international universities and numerous other distinctions.
... be considered a precursor to some of Piaget's work with child psychology and began with the systematic ... eventually wrote his thesis for his doctorate in natural science, focusing his research on the 'the behavior, ... work was diverse, covering areas such as systematic introspection, suggestibility, research with abnormals, mental fatigue, psychology of legal testimony, experimental study of children ...
John H. Flavell was an American psychologist born in 1928, specialised in child cognitive development. Through the discovery of new developmental processes and the analysis of Jean Piaget’s theories, Flavell changed the course of developmental psychology in the United States. In 1955, Flavell earned a Bachelors’ Degree in Psychology at Clark University. In 1984 he was recognized with an Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions from the American Psychological Society, and in 1994 he was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences. He is currently emeritus professor of Developmental Psychology at Stanford University. Flavell has carried out exhaustive research in the fields of metacognition, child’s theory and the mind. One of his most famous contributions in this field is his work on the development of understanding through childhood of the distinction between appearance and reality. Given this background, I hereby state that the work of Claudia Saquicela Novillo, young professional in psychology and awarded a Master in Education and Thought Development, immerses with temperance in the comparative study of the cognitive development theories of Jean Piaget and John H. Flavell in pre-school children.
This study is organised in three chapters – the first lays the bases of the psychological and epistemological conception and covers the mechanisms of cognitive development and its steps and stages, as well as the origins of thought, arriving at a solid argument comparing the theories held by Piaget and Flavell. Claudia takes part in favour of John H. Flavell and states – “I defend that the origin of this investigation is the conception of stages in cognitive development. Piaget conceives them as lineal, rigid, with strong biological influences, explained only with the mechanisms of adaptation, accommodation, assimilation and equilibrium. Meanwhile, Flavell conceives them dialectically, and rather than stages he explains cognitive development as states of intellectual development, allowing for the possibility of steps forwards and backwards”.
... Brace Jonvanovich Publishers, 1990) 3. Wadsworth, Barry J.Piaget's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development, 4th edition (New York, N.Y.; Longman Incorporated ... . Piaget also believed that if a person was not in the appropriate cognitive stage, they could be caught in a state of ... their scheme in adjusting to the new data presented. This state of disequilibrium is the precise reason why it is so ...
Chapter two undertakes the educational guidelines derived by the approaches of Piaget and Flavell, in particular Piaget’s teaching strategies, the approach that empowers the development of thought and strategies, and the different factors of the process of teaching and learning according to the theory of John H. Flavell.
The third chapter develops a micro-curricular design and states: “This micro-curricular design was born from the analysis and comparison of Piaget and Flavell’s proposals and from the identification of their educational guidelines; these are the sources I used to elaborate the current proposal of micro-curricular design”. And she concludes her work declaring that “this investigation has contributed to resolve the question – how does cognitive development occur in pre-school children?”. Besides, she lays out a critique to Piaget’s theory, in the acceptance that “This micro-curricular design originates from the author’s partial divergence from Piaget’s ideas and has been created in agreement with the theoretical conception of Flavell, for whom there are capabilities or cognitive states that are the base of ulterior developments, as it was amply developed in chapter two”.
“…One of the key advantages of Flavell’s approach is the absence of a division into age periods characteristic of Piaget, which would make it difficult to plan the learning process of mental operations. Therefore, with the goal of arriving at a suitable plan, the theory of Piaget has been chosen, despite the fact that Flavell’s approach contributes to the explanation that cognitive development is a spiral-shaped process”. This work involves a significative contribution to learning processes, in the development of values for the integral development of children in pre-school age such as tolerance, respect, solidarity, patience and motivation. For this reason I’d like to congratulate this initiative, laid down here in a solid piece of work, because it will aid in the basic processes of education. Being given the opportunity to achieve the development of emotional competence, children in pre-school ages are better prepared for a society in constant change as well as for a better tomorrow. My apologies.
The Essay on Compare and contrast Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development in children
... and education in better way. According to Piaget children cognitive development is universal a process which the child goes through once and this process is ... important for child’s cognitive development. In brave, Piaget’s theory and Vygotsky’s theories have improved and gave better understanding of children cognitive development and also ...
In Loja, 28th June 2010
Nelson E. Novillo Bravo
The ideas expressed throughout the final report
of this investigation are the
author’s sole responsibility.
(signed)………………………………………………. Claudia Elisa Saquicela Novillo
I would like to acknowledge God, my parents, my dear grandad Ildefonso Novillo, the House of Culture Núcleo de Loja, Eric Van Vleet, the DIUC, Nelson Novillo, Mónica Cordero, Oliver Rickards Dilorenzo, Florencia Novillo, Cristian Rodas, Carolina Flores and all the people whose support and coordination helped to complete this book. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Claudia Saquicela Novillo
I dedicate this work to my parents María Eugenia y Fernando Octavio, as well as to my two nephews Adriancito and David for having inspired this research. I would like to also dedicate this book to all those parents who undergo the difficult job of educating their children so that throughout their lives they can become worthwhile people. Finally, I dedicate this book to all those people who believe that through education they give love.
Claudia Saquicela Novillo
This book is a comparative and contrasting analysis between the theories of Piaget and Flavell on the cognitive development of pre-school children, aimed at understanding the theory of Piaget’s ideas as well as those proposed by Flavell regarding four conceptual categories: stages of cognitive development, the genesis of thought, mechanisms and strategies of cognitive development. This is followed by the introduction of certain implications and educational guidelines that arise as a consequence of the theoretical analysis. I personally share the approach of Flavell, that children’s intelligence resembles a spiral in shape and structure. The conclusion of the study is that most of the neuronal conexions that children will use during their life are already formed up to the age of ten (Flavell, Cognitive 35).
The final chapter covers the proposal of a micro-curricular design containing the theoretical contributions of both authors, aimed at improving the process of teaching and learning through the acquisition of mental operations. A key part of this design is the presentation of multiple educational experiences aimed at achieving not only the transfer of knowledge but also for this knowledge to be of significance. The proposal emerges due to the need to create lesson plans according to the context of pre-school cognitive development. Waiting till the age of seven, also known as the age of reason, would delay cognitive as well as emotional development in the children (Flavell, Cognitive 42).
... /article/29997/vygotskys_theory_of_cognitive_development. html? cat=4 Uncgrad, (2006). Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. Associated Content. Retrieved on January 01, 2009, from http ... on the importance of outside influence to the child’s overall cognitive development, where as Piaget barely acknowledged the significance of outside influence on ...
The objective of this book is to theoretically compare the two different conceptual approaches of Jean Piaget and John Flavell on the cognitive development of children in pre-school age. It aims to answer two questions: What educational practices are applicable in the context of cognitive development in pre-school age? Which approach to cognitive development could contribute to improve the educational practise in this stage? The key motivation for this research has been the need to give alternative and adaptable answers to early childhood education, because the current reference for curriculum plans for pre-school education follows a generic layout and answers to a Piagetian approach to education. A dialogue will be established, analysed and interpreted between the two abovementioned theories, and as a result of the ideas obtained from both authors, a set of educational guidelines will be elaborated. Recent studies have demonstrated that children develop 80% of their cognitive capacity till the age of three,
providing theoretical evidence for the fact that children’s intelligence is formed and being shaped at early ages, resembling a spiral (Flavell, Cognitive 35).
This comparative study is based on a bibliographic investigation aimed at analysing four conceptual categories developed by both authors – mechanisms of cognitive development, stages of cognitive development, genesis of thought and cognitive strategies – in order to find similarities and differences between them and to infer educational implications. After this analysis the investigation contributes by focusing on the shaping of a micro-curricular educational plan targetted to the development of pre-school thought while keeping in mind moral and ethical values (Flavell, Cognitive 42).
... that offer theoretical perspectives on how a child develops. 2. Piaget's Constructivist Theory of Cognitive Development: Piaget had a phrase that said "Assimilation and ... , a person may develop differently. B. The Four Periods of Cognitive Development in Piaget's Theory: This theory is better known as ...
Piaget’s theory has served a base for educational and pedagogical practise in almost every level of our education. Neo-Piagetian authors like Flavell discuss a different approach on cognitive development thanks to the use of more trustworthy research techniques other than the sole use of methods such as the clinical interview. In view of Flavell cognitive development is irregular, moving forward and backward, and these discoveries are founded on the new techniques of neuropsychology and the use of brain imaging. It has been proposed by some authors that the difference between the mental processes of children and adults is determined in large part by differences in the use of the working memory, which gains efficacy and power with practice and experience. One of Flavell’s most important findings is the ability to inhibit children’s cognitive impulsivity in order to improve the efficacy of short-term memory, attention, concentration and as a consequence the learning processes as well as the children’s emotional development.
I consider that the main point of this investigation is the conception of cognitive development stages. For Piaget, this evolves in a linear and rigid fashion, is strongly driven by biology and explained by mechanisms such as adaptation, accommodation, assimilation and equilibration. Meanwhile, Flavell’s conception of cognitive development is dialectic, stages being replaced by states of intellectual development, allowing for the possibility of backward-forward steps. The qualitative changes of intelligence become fundamental. An example would be the learning of languages, which is much easier at an early age because cognitive structures are in the process of forming in the first stage of life.
The other essential contribution of this investigation is the presence of specific strategies for cognitive development. Piaget conceives them according to age, whereas Flavell considers that the same cognitive strategies can be utilised for older or younger children, and this has been applied to thought development programs such as those of Lipman’s philosophy for children, Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking and psycholinguistics.
... studied cognitive development • Felt that younger children think differently than older children and adults • Developed the most influential theory of intellectual development How do children learn ... ? • According to Piaget, children actively construct knowledge as they manipulate and explore ...
The last part of this book contains my proposal of micro-curricular design, which includes a comparative analysis and applies the educational implications obtained in chapters one and two. This micro-curricular design consists of detailed lesson plans containing a variety of activities based on Piagetian and Flavellian ideas in the context of cognitive development of pre-school children. It achieves a transfer of knowledge and provides answers to the concerns that motivated this research in the first place. They involve the application of some of the consequences for children’s learning extracted in the previous two chapters from the theoretical comparison between Piaget and Flavell.
The method followed for the design of the plans consists of four stages aimed at promoting the process of teaching and learning: modelling, guided practice, independent practice and transfer. The final appendices provided are a source of support activities for the teacher which are faithful to the principle of respecting each student’s learning pace as well as diversity in the class. An explanatory analysis on theory of mind is also included as well as its strong link to metacognition and the urgent need that exists for the processes of metacognition to be applied in the classroom.
PIAGET AND FLAVELL
Creativity is more important than knowledge.
COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS BETWEEN THE THEORIES OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT OF PIAGET AND FLAVELL
In this chapter I will explain the most important topics of cognitive development presented by Piaget and Flavell regarding these four conceptual categories:
1. Mechanisms of cognitive development.
2. Stages of cognitive development.
3. Genesis of thought.
4. Cognitive strategies.
A comparative analysis of the four abovementioned categories will follow, contrasting what has been proposed by both authors on cognitive development at the pre-school stage.
At the end of the chapter I will present a summary and the conclusions that arise from the comparative analysis of the theory of cognitive development of Piaget and Flavell.
1. MECHANISMS OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN THE THEORIES PROPOSED BY PIAGET AND FLAVELL
Piaget’s conception of intelligence is linear and resembles the construction of a building floor by floor. The basis is that each stage in cognitive development is characterized by the appearance of structures built up in a progressive and successive manner, the way a lower degree structure assembles on a higher degree structure (Flavell, Cognitive Development 45).
Piaget describes seven mechanisms of cognitive development, namely: assimilation, accommodation, cognitive adaptation, equilibrium, schema, structure and organization. They try to explain – how does a subject advance from a rudimentary act such as a reflex arc to a complex act? how does the subject know?. To partially answer these questions, Piaget says that there are four fundamental factors for the development of intelligence and that each factor depends on the other:
1. Organic maturation. Without it, it is impossible to know. It is the biological process, genetically programmed, that allows the development of systems of organs necessary for life.
2. Experience acquired by interacting with objects. I achieve knowledge by means of action.
3. Social transmission. Referring to learning, which itself has to do with the notions of accommodation, assimilation and adaptation.
4. Internal mechanism of self-regulation. It takes the organism to a state of motive, psychological, biological and social equilibrium. Equilibrium between adaptation and organization, between stimulus and response. The last factor can subdivided in the four cognitive mechanisms explained by Piaget which will be briefly presented as follows:
1.1 Mechanisms of cognitive development according to Piaget.
According to Piaget, the first mechanism of cognitive development is assimilation. It means that no conduct, no matter how new it is for the individual, represents an absolute beginning. It is always INTEGRATED into prior schemas. Things and people are joined in to the subject’s own activity, and as a result the outer world is assimilated into previously built-in structures. Assimilation is comprised of three aspects:
3. Recognition (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 32).
The second mechanism, accommodation, refers to any modification within any assimilating schema or structure caused by the elements that are assimilated. It is a transformation of the current organisation in response to the requirements posed by the environment. The third mechanism, cognitive adaptation, refers to the balance achieved between assimilation and accommodation. It may lead to stability in some instances and to change in
others. Adaptation allows the subject to approach the environment and to achieve a dynamic conciliation. The fourth mechanism is balance. Piaget describes the beginning of development as the period when the child achieves an internal balance between that which has already been accommodated and the context that surrounds them, thanks to the assimilation made into their mental structures. For Piaget, balance is established in three levels:
3.1. Between the subject’s schemas and external events,
3.2. within the subject’s own mental structures and
3.3. balance as an ordered integration of different schemas.
Besides, in order to have a clear idea of how a child develops concepts and organises them in their cognitive structure, it is important to define the concepts of schema, structure and organisation. The fifth mechanism is the schema. A schema is a specific structure of the mind that can be transferred and generalised. A schema can arise at many different levels of abstraction. One of the first schemas to appear is the permanent object, which allows the child to answer to objects that are not available to the senses. Later on, the child achieves the schema of a class of objects, which allows them to group them into classes and understand the relationship that exists between objects in different classes. In many aspects, Piaget’s schema resembles the traditional idea of concept, except that it refers to mental operations and cognitive structures instead of perceptual classifications (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 34).
The structure, or sixth mechanism in cognitive development, is the group of answers that take place when the subject of knowledge has acquired certain elements from the exterior. The organisation, or seventh mechanism, is a feature of intelligence, formed by stages of knowledge that lead to different conducts in specific situations. For Piaget an object can never be perceived or learned in itself, but through the organised actions of the subject who perceives or learns.
1.2 Mechanisms of cognitive development according to Flavell.
Flavell’s view of the mechanisms of cognitive development is different from Piaget’s, because it focuses on four mechanisms: automation, codification, generalisation and strategy construction (Flavell, Cognitive Development 75).
Automation. It is the way in which mental processes become progressively more automatic with practise. Children that develop more sophisticated automation strategies are capable to solve problems and test their hypotheses. The more automated their mental processes are, the more effective and efficient their thoughts will be. From an early age, children can use a range of cognitive strategies that allow them to achieve a certain level of automation in their mental processes. Automation is reached thanks to careful and constant practice.
Codification. Small children usually focus on a single aspect, perhaps even wrong or irrelevant, of a problem, whereas those capable of problem solving are more able to select all relevant information. The process of codification refers to those aspects of a situation that receive attention. For example, when children encounter different types of birds and are able to realise that despite having specific characteristics, it is those essential characteristics that define a specific object and, in the process of coding these aspects, children are finding the essence of the concept of bird.
Generalisation. This is the ability to use evidence to make generalisations, an aspect of inductive reasoning that is essential for thought development. Clear examples of the ability of children to generalise are – awareness that the ability to grow is a distinctive characteristic of life, that all living things grow, that biological growth is by law predictable, that organisms can increase their size as they age, that a change in appearance does not imply a change in basic identity, whether it is that of a newborn or an octogenarian.
Strategy construction. This mind operation is characterised by being explanatory in its way of facing problems. Children need to be given the necessary practice to progressively acquire more information on that specific area, to increase in experience and advance from a stage of perception only. This will lead to logical and regulated thought mediated by a series of strategies that will allow them to solve problems and transfer the knowledge learned in a gradual manner during the whole process of cognitive development (Flavell, Cognitive Development 78).
A few principles of numerical reasoning are described as follows. They contain the application of the four mechanisms of cognitive development proposed by Flavell – automation, codification, generalisation and strategy construction – including their respective methodological strategy and suggested activity.
The principle of one by one. Someone who can count successfully must assign one and only one distinctive number to each object or item being counted. This principle of numerical reasoning involves the mechanism of automation. For example, the first item will received the number one, then two, three and so on until the whole set of objects is counted. The one who is counting must not skip any objects nor count them more than once, and must count precisely when the last object in the set has been numbered.
Methodological strategy. Based on the principle of one by one, with the aim of exercising the mechanism of automation, children should count many objects and it should be emphasized that it is only one object each time. Suggested activity: with 2 to 4 year old children, count series of up to three objects with the objective of reinforcing the principle of one by one.
The principle of the stable order. As a set of items is counted, the name of the numbers should also be counted in the same sequence. Here, the cognitive mechanism of automation is also required, to encourage the children to count in a sequence (Flavell, Cognitive Development 80).
Methodological strategy. Children need to know that they always need to count following the same order or sequence or otherwise the result obtained will be different. Parents can help children so that they always count the same way. Suggested activity: in the game of hopscotch, children may place objects such as colour counters or pebbles and then count them in the same order, keeping in mind that they must do it one at a time and following the same order.
The cardinal principle. At the end of a counted sequence, a value will be assigned that is the total number of items counted in the set. The mechanism of codification is applicable because children need to focus on the relevant information to assign a final numerical value to what has been counted (Flavell, Cognitive Development 80).
Methodological strategy. When a child finishes counting, they need to assign a total number of objects. This is a basic form of processing the numeric information that they have acquired. The child needs to be asked how many objects there are in total in order to help them to acquire this principle. Suggested activity: a child may count the number of windows and doors in one floor of a house. This will help them add this mental practice to their cognitive archive with the aim of giving the final numerical result.
The principle of abstraction. Unlike the other principles that describe how to count, this principle states that anything is potentially countable. The mechanism applied here is that of generalisation, because of the fact that the child needs inductive reasoning (Flavell, Cognitive Development 81).
Methodological strategy. This is a generality principle because it allows children to become aware that any object can be counted because object classes are very diverse and any of them is susceptible of being counted. Suggested activity: the child may select diverse objects – branches, stones, leaves or flowers – and count them to exercise the learned principle.
The principle of order irrelevance. It establishes that the order in which objects are counted does not matter. For this principle, the child applies the mechanism of strategy construction because they become aware that despite there being different ways to count, they will always obtain the same result.
Methodological strategy. The order of the factors does not affect the result, because no matter where they begin the result will be the same. It is essential for children to be aware that beginning on the doll or on the car does not affect the final result if the previous principles are respected. Suggested activity: the children may be given a few sets containing different objects and encouraged to count various times, each time initiating the process on a different item.
Principles of numerical reasoning. Children acquire principles of numerical reasoning as well as a capacity for numerical abstraction during early childhood. Hence, at the end of this period most children have learned that changing the colour of a set of counters does not affect the total numeric value of the set. They have acquired the knowledge that adding objects to a given quantity increases the numeric value and that when taking off items this value diminishes, as well as the knowledge that if an item is added and at the same time subtracted, the final value remains the same. This principle integrates the four abovementioned mechanisms (Flavell, Cognitive Development 82).
Methodological strategy. This principle brings together and consolidates the abovementioned principles, and for this reason it is essential for children to acquire experience by training in activities in which they add one or more objects to an established group to appreciate that the quantity is modified. It is the responsibility of the people in care of children to achieve this learning and to mediate the understanding of the principles. Suggested activity: the abovementioned piagetian activity can be practised by changing the counters to chocolates or lollies on which the children will acknowledge a perceptive change in amount. Another activity may involve the use of jigsaw puzzle pieces which the children can count and acknowledge the change in number as they perform activities. All
this will support their skills and numerical abilities.
2. STAGES IN COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO PIAGET AND FLAVELL
2.1. Stages in cognitive development according to Piaget.
2.1.1. Sensorimotor stage.
The initial elements are for Piaget the reflexes of the newborn child from birth. They then transform into a complex structure of schemas that allow an exchange between the subject and reality, allowing the child to be aware of the difference between itself and the world of objects. The child begins to acknowledge that objects continue to exist even if hidden from them, and reflex actions turn into operations acting towards an aim. The sensorimotor stage can be divided into six substages of cognitive development, advancing every four months up to two years of age. At birth, the child’s responses are simple reflexes, such as sucking a nipple, holding a finger or blinking at a light. These responses will progressively become more adaptative, hence anticipating the effects of the child’s actions on the environment. At the end of the sensorimotor stage the child has almost developed a representational ability over the surrounding objects, as well as the ability to think of objects even in their absence.
Piaget emphasizes the fact that children at this stage see things from their own angle, that is, in an egocentric way, and that generally they focus only in one aspect of a problem (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 48).
Under the double influence of language and socialization, intelligence suffers a transformation from purely practical or sensorimotor to actual thought. Language enables the child to talk about past and future events, and to substitute it all with words without performing any action; this is, therefore, the origin of thought. Thanks to this channel, concepts and notions belonging to the collective thought are communicated and known. Below I will describe the six substages of cognitive development, which span from birth to 24 months of age approximately, and correspond to the sensorimotor state:
Substage 1. It involves reflexes, inherited montages, intuitive tendencies and early emotions. It spans the first month of life. The organism is active and present in global and spontaneous activities with a rhythmic shape. The newborn’s reflexes (sucking, palmar reflex, etc.) give rise to reflex exercise, which is a consolidation by functional exercise. Life within the mind of a newborn is limited to the reproduction of reflex movements that despite being inherited are the foundations of practical behaviours for the assimilation of the environment (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 51).
Substage 2. Begins at one month and lasts until four months of age. This stage features the first motor habits, organised perceptions and distinguishable feelings. The key achievement is the development of the first acquired structures, namely habits. Characterised by habits and perceptions, this substage is characterised by the existence of feelings in relation to motor activity, displaying a contrast between what is pleasant and unpleasant. Using psychoanalytic terminology the child must be described as narcissistic, because they care solely about their own body’s needs and reactions. In psychoanalytic terms, affectivity is known as the ability to choose an object driven by an objectivation of feelings and their projection towards other activities that have nothing to do with the self. Those other objects are people, who can induce a series of feelings that range from joy to sadness, from success to failure, etc. This marks the appearance of interpersonal feelings. Those feelings are first for the mother, the father and those who are affectively closest (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 52).
Habits have their origin on reflexes, but they are not yet intelligence. A basic habit can be based on a global sensorimotor scheme, but the difference between means and ends does not exist from the point of view of the subject. Motor coordination begins to appear in the form of: Inter sensorial coordination: it marks the onset of the first responses to attention. Sensorimotor: it is oriented towards sound and visual control. An integration of sensory information begins, which is a requisite for the elaboration of representational schemes.
Substage 3. It has its origin at four months of age and lasts until eight months of age. In this substage there is in the child coordination between vision and understanding. The sensorimotor stage of intelligence appears before language, and in it appear the first affective regulations and early fixations of affectivity on external objects. These early stages correspond to the first two years in the life of the baby. For example, a four month old child grabs the string from which his rattle hangs and then repeats this act a number of times revealing a circular reaction. A circular reaction is a new habit whose finality was previously independent of the means used. Piaget states that it
only takes a new object hanging above the child for them to start searching for the string, which constitutes a principle of differentiation between the end and the means.
Substage 4. It spans from eight to twelve months of age. In it, more complete acts of practical intelligence can be observed. It involves three key achievements:
1) An increase of attention for what happens in the environment.
2) The appearance of intentionality.
3) An intuitive stage, characterised by spontaneous interindividual feelings and social relationships. This stage shows the first examples of instrumental coordination, from means to ends. The sensorimotor schemes will not attempt to reproduce an effect caused at random, but instead to gather all the necessary means to achieve the intended objective. Coordination of representational schemes begin to show in order to allow an easy understanding of the relationships between objects and facts, which allow the child to “know” what is going to happen next. For example, if a child takes an adult’s hand and brings it to the object he/she aspires to get, he/she becomes aware that there is no difference between the preparation of food and food itself.
Substage 5. It spans from twelve to eighteen months of age. This stage marks the addition of an essential reaction to the child’s behaviour, which is the search of new means through the differentiation of known schemes. New attempts stemming from “I wonder what happens if…” allow the child to elaborate instrumental practical schemes marked by the realisation that their schemes are not so motive or reversible anymore. Thus this is a stage of new discoveries thanks to the diverse experimentations carried out by the child with their own senses and their body.
Substage 6. It spans the ages of eighteen to twenty-four months. This is the last stage of the sensorimotor stage and drives a transition to the following period. The child is capable of finding new means, not just by searching for external or material things but now also by interiorising combinations that result in a sudden understanding or insight. Early sensorimotor knowledge of objects is provided by action schemes – how are they from the point of view of perception and what can be done with them on the motor side? Sensorimotor progress acquires a new dimension and intelligence operates with the aid of representations, effects are anticipated and action is not needed (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 57).
2.1.2 Pre-operational stage.
The pre-operational stage is the second of four stages. It follows from the sensorimotor stage and spans from two to seven years of age. It is a stage of thought and language and displays an ability for imagination and dreaming as well as being characterized by object permanence, conversation, mimicking behaviours, playing symbolic games, intuition, drawings, mental images, the development of the spoken language, the importance of a life of affectivity and animism. Besides, there are also two substages, preconceptual and intuitive. It begins with the understanding of object permanence, and it occurs between the ages of two to seven years old. During this stage, children develop a more complex way to interact with their environment, through the use of words and mental images. A key feature of this stage is egocentrism, the belief that everyone sees the world in the same way as oneself. Children also believe that inanimate objects have the same perceptions as them and are able to see, feel, listen, etc.
Conservation. It is the ability to understand that changes in form do not mean changes in quantity. That is, if water that is contained in a short wide glass is poured into a tall narrow glass, children in this stage will believe that the taller glass contains more water only because the water level is higher. This is due to the fact that children are incapable of understanding reversibility, as well as to the fact that they consider only one aspect of the stimulus, for example water level, disregarding other aspects like the width of the glass.
Symbolic play. The thought of children at this stage is egocentric and shows traces of imagination and dreaming. Playing with dolls or make-believe meals are two examples of this, showing a deformation of the real world adapted to the self, as intuition is the logic of early life and is linked to perception. In addition, common thought is a kind of extension of the mechanisms of assimilation and accommodation of the previous stage.
Animism. It is a characteristic of child thought by which they endow with movement every object in nature, such as tables, rocks, trees, etc. It allows the child to think of extraordinary things, full of fantasy, like being in the company of the moon, which may even have a connection with the mother if they misbehave. There exists a relationship between primitive thought and children’s thought, and it originates from the anthropological origin of our genetic inheritance. Natural law is mixed up with moral law as determinism is with obligation (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 60).
Artificialism. It is a feature of child behaviour by which they think that man, or a superior divinity, is responsible for everything created. Children may believe, for example, that cities were created before lakes, that spaceships gave origin to clouds or that fruits originate from blenders, therefore endowing objects with artificial characteristics. The pre-operational stage comprises two substages:
Pre-conceptual substage. It begins at four years of age, when children are able to get by with notions and have recently acquired the use of language. This stage is characterised by an interiorisation of the relationships from the previous stage which generates mental actions that cannot yet be categorised as operations due to their vagueness, inadequacy and/or, lack of reversibility.
Intuitive substage. Some characteristic processes of this stage are symbolic play, centration, intuition, animism, egocentrism, juxtaposition and irreversibility (the inability to realise that properties can be conserved).
Below I will describe intuition, the way in which a child compensates for his lack of logical thought.
Intuition. An essential characteristic of this stage is the fact that children constantly affirm without prove of any of their affirmations. This is based on their egocentric thought, which does not require proofing to oneself what one is saying. It is easy to see children showing deficient evidence of that which they have affirmed; they even find it difficult to reconstruct facts due to the great difficulty they have to found their affirmations, making it hard to explain the notions employed. Children advanced in practical intelligence can still display some primitive behaviour, hence the existence of a thesis defending that a child at this age is more practical and shows a link to the sensorimotor type of intelligence (Piaget, Psychology and Pedagogy 34).
This means that intuition is the internalisation of perceptions and movements in the form of images and of simple mental images. An example of this is when children are presented with a group of counters in different colours and arranged in rows. When there is visual correspondence the child is able to reproduce a row.
However, when the counters in a row are crowded together and the child is asked which colour shows more counters, then the child replies that the lined-up row is the one with the most counters. The question arising from this is “Why is it that children cannot think logically but are nonetheless able to learn more quickly than adults?” The reversion of intuition, thanks to the fact that it is not only focused on the perceptive, marks the transition to the next stage. It is essential for the child to begin anticipating the reconstruction of elements in order to achieve this reversibility in their mental schemes. Intuition is a less stable balance of the lack of reversibility when compared to logic, but when compared to the mechanisms of the preverbal reflexes it becomes a significant achievement. In conclusion, in the pre-operative stage one must consider the child’s affective life with regards to: interest, emotional motives and the child’s values (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 23).
Affective life in the pre-operational stage.
Intellectual development and emotional development occur in parallel, the reason being that no act is purely intellectual. Important factors are emotional motives, the regulation of interests and the value that the child gives to different types of lies. Meanwhile, affectivity is driven not just by feelings and emotions, but also by comprehension. Interests are defined as an extension of one’s needs, meaning that an item is interesting as long as it satisfies a need. An interest is also the mental assimilation of an object, and in this stage a child shows multiple interests that generate a dissociation of energy which determines the interest brought about by the selected activity. Interest is a regulator of energy, meaning that if the child is interested in an activity, fatigue diminishes and it becomes an easy task. But interest also responds to a system of values. People who respond to a child’s interests and who value the child will receive affection.
Early MORAL VALUES, arisen from moral feelings, will appear at this stage. They will include the concepts of what is compulsory and of duty, which do not simply arise from likes or dislikes but from the respect for the rules as such (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 25).
2.1.3 Concrete operational stage.
It spans from seven to eleven years of age. The main features of this stage are a gradual decrease in egocentric behaviour and a growing capacity to focus the attention on more than one aspect or stimulus. Imagined or unseen, unheard or untouched objects continue to have a mystical quality for children at this stage, and abstract thought still needs to develop. The child is not only able to use symbols, but can use them in a logical way through the ability to conserve in order to arrive at correct generalisations (Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children 39).
As symbolic function or proper thought emerges, children begin to think about facts or objects that cannot be perceived but are evoked or represented through symbols, using the game of symbolic imagination, drawings and in particular language. At this stage, a child finds it hard to consider another person’s point of view. This stage is divided in three substages:
Substage 1: around six to seven years of age. The child acquires the intellectual ability to conserve numerical quantities such as lengths and liquid volumes. By conservation we understand the ability to understand that quantity stays the same even if shape varies. On the contrary, a child in the pre-operational stage was convinced that a tall thin bottle holding a litre of water contained more water than a short wide one.
around seven to eight years of age. The child develops the ability to conserve materials. While handling a ball of clay to break it up into smaller balls, the child is now aware that if the smaller balls are joined back the resulting amount of clay will roughly be that of the original ball. This capacity receives the name of reversibility.
Substage 3: around nine to ten years of age. The last step in conservation, namely surface conservation, is achieved by the child. An example of this is the fact that they can notice, when faced with some paper squares, that the total paper surface is the same whether the squares are piled up or dispersed.
2.1.4 Formal operational stage.
It occurs from age twelve to adulthood. It is the final stage in cognitive development, when children begin to develop a more abstract vision of the world and to use formal logics. They are able to apply reversibility and conservation to both real and imaginary events. Their understanding of the world and of the idea of cause and effect also increases. It is characterised by the ability to formulate hypotheses and test them in order to find a solution to a problem, without the need to check the specific and current solution itself. This structure of thought is built during the pre-adolescence, when the systematic combination of objects begins (Piaget, Psychology and Pedagogy 43).
As they combine ideas or hypotheses in the form of affirmations and negations, they develop scientific thought. They develop an interest for social topics and for their own identity. With the onset of the ability to reason against the facts, they can achieve tasks such as using a given statement as the basis for discussion. It is from the age of twelve that the human brain is potentially capable (from gene expression) to formulate truly abstract thought, or thoughts of the hypothetico-deductive type.
2.2 Flavell’s stages of cognitive development.
I will now explain in detail the meaning of cognitive development according to Flavell, though the analysis of the five stages configured as a spiral, in contrast to the lineal stages of the Piagetian theory (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 24).
According to the author, this development occurs irregularly with forwards and backwards steps, and it is essential for children to develop that they understand their mind as well as that of others. For example, a three year old girl can comprehend that her friend wants a toy from her box and that she is capable to find out; this common sense shows that she understands what her friend is thinking. One of the issues regarding this description of stages of cognitive development is the lack of explanation about the adolescent and adult stages, which specifically refers to the fundamental conception of cognitive development. Below I will explain the five stages of cognitive development according to Flavell:
2.2.1 Stage 1: the mind exists.
It refers to the child’s awareness that they are a thinking being, that they can predict the behaviour of others who can appear to have different states of mind. As they progressively change their own conceptions of themselves, children will strengthen their ability to know their own minds. There is no specific period for this stage to develop. An example of this is when children interpret their parents’ facial expressions as a prediction of a given event.
Another example shows how children communicate differently with objects and with people, the latter being objects of persuasion and attempts to comfort, calm, amuse or pamper them. This does not mean that babies want to induce mental states in adults, but simply that they are intuitively aware of the ability of adults to respond to their wishes. Babies learn that they can predict the behaviour of others and affect their emotional state when they comfort, hurt or tempt them. When a child speaks to a banana as if it were a telephone, but knows that it really is a fruit, this differentiation between what’s real and what’s not is a mental representation. Small children pretend that dolls have their own behaviour, their way of acting and thinking. A two year old child can even share games with a sibling in which they pretend to be in an internal mental state which influences their behaviour (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 31).
Later on, children will make more precise distinctions between their language and the phenomenon of mind such as guessing versus knowing, believing versus fantasizing, focusing on an objective versus having no objective. This awakening continues through childhood, as demonstrated in the way children change their conceptions of themselves and others.
2.2.2 Stage 2: The mind is connected to the physical world.
It refers to the rudimentary understanding of the entry-exit relationships of mental objects between the cognitive entity and a physical phenomenon such as behaviour, an object or event. Another feature of this stage is that children know that people are cognitively connected to events and objects of the environment in different ways such as sight, hearing, taste, wish or fear. Besides, it is understood that cognitive connections can change over time, like if something can be seen which could not be seen a minute ago. Certain stimuli lead to certain states of mind and these in turn lead to certain behaviours. A state of mind can encompass emotions, motives, intentions, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and personality traits.
Children in pre-school age possess a rudimentary form of this knowledge, as for example they know if someone is hiding in a box an item that they wish for. But besides knowing this, an older child knows that information comes from the world and that they often cannot completely ascertain the complexity of this information (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 32).
Wishes and needs allow for the prediction of a person’s behaviour to a certain extent, but things become difficult when this prediction is attempted based on the persons’ beliefs. However, there are still rudimentary attempts to achieve this that provide evidence of being in an adequate mental process. Children in this age tend to give explanations which are real to themselves, like when they say for example that they are going to paint their own hands because they are sheets of paper.
2.2.3 Stage 3: The mind separates and differs from the physical world.
The previous postulates describe the capacity of the mind to connect to the physical world, so certain things can be thought of without a need to touch them. However, a child can still make a mistake, as Piaget already mentioned the differentiation of head and mind. It has been proved in other studies that pre-school children are aware of the fact that mental representations are not physical things (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 33).
A pre-school child who hears that someone has a biscuit and that someone else is thinking of a biscuit is aware that having a biscuit and thinking of it are two different things. Children also talk about states of mind, and they can for example realise that thinking is a purely intellectual activity, because they know that people can think of things without a need to see them or touch them. Small children also know that thoughts are neither external nor public entities,
and by the explanations they give they demonstrate that they understand that one cannot see an image because one cannot see someone else’s imagination.
Children know that they can change things in their imagination, but that a cup in a box cannot be changed solely by thinking of it. Small children know that they can daydream of things that do not exist, such as Martians, dragons, ghosts or a singing cockroach. They know that the mind can transcend reality, they can have fantasy dreams, and they can be scared even if they know that monsters and other scary things do not exist. A study showed that a child pretending to be a monster in order to scare other children got so scared that he cried because everything seemed too real (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 34).
Experimental studies have demonstrated that children in pre-school age, despite knowing that monsters are not real, are not completely sure that a monster cannot cross the barrier between fantasy and reality. When children imagined that there was a monster in a box and a puppy dog in another, even if aware of the fact that they were not real, they chose to put their own finger in the box with the puppy and a stick in the box with the monster.
2.2.4 Stage 4: The mind can represent objects and events adequately or inadequately.
Infants in this developmental stage have mental representations and their mind can generate alternatives and external representations in pretend games. Many children in pre-school age are aware that a mental representation is not something real. Even two to three year old children talk about the fact that they understand the states of mind that can generate people’s behaviour. Here is where the greatest cognitive jump in the child’s mind occurs, the mental operation that allows one to comprehend what is a mental representation. This is the essence of the human mind. In particular, they understand why an event and an object are different from a mental representation. Some children think that events and objects appear in only one form, and therefore these mental representations can be wrong, due to the fact that the link established with the real world is also wrong (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 35).
An example of this is what happens if a chocolate a child was drinking is hidden from them. A three year old child would probably not realise that the chocolate was moved to another place; however, a four year old child can infer this action because they possess the knowledge that people can act in accordance to their beliefs. Children understand both the existence of false beliefs and the fact that despite not being reality they can lead us through a specific behaviour. They know that people’s behaviour is not always driven by reality but instead it can be driven by beliefs. False beliefs. The explanation of this concept comes from the representational understanding of change. Let’s assume a three year old child is shown a box of sweets and asked what they think there is inside the box. Knowing that this is an experiment conducted by a psychologist, you will probably think that there are sweets inside, but if once the box is opened you find not sweets but pencils, you will find it hard to predict what other children will say when asked the same question (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 36).
Another example of false beliefs and the difficulty one has to assimilate them appears when a child thinks that it is fine to go to school in their pyjamas or when they think that a friend’s toothbrush is theirs and take it home.
2.2.5 Stage 5: The mind actively mediates between the interpretation of reality and experienced emotions.
Flavell considers this as the last stage in childhood cognitive development, because it marks the acquisition of the ability to mediate, select, organise and transform information about the environment, with the consequent distortion and enrichment of reality. Mental activity, however, does not become apparent until the age of six years. Certain indicators of notions can be found in the understanding of false beliefs because they imply a distorted reality. It has been proposed by some researchers that children build and interpret reality from an entity of notions in order to process it (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 37).
The child’s mind is a cognitive receptacle that acquires information in an automatic and correct form without modifying it.
Before the age of six, children have almost no idea of mental processes and produce many false beliefs, illusions, inferences and elaborate concepts. Children also find it hard to understand that mental abilities are responsible for making different people understand differently. For example, experiments have shown that some eight year old children believe that preverbal babies understand verbal messages that come from adults. As a result, cognitive researchers have proposed a new interpretation of egocentrism based on the relationship between what the small child assumes and what they think, feel, perceive and know. Egocentric behaviour could explain the lack of knowledge about what people know, feel and interpret based on the available specific knowledge, because each one’s experience has origin on their perceptions (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 39).
Children aged two to six were made in a study to watch a movie with their mother. During the movie, the volume went down and the mother left the room, and then returned to continue watching the movie. At the end of the experiment the children were asked which parts of the movie the mother knew, and they assumed that she knew the whole movie. Older children were able to tell exactly which segments of the movie the mother ignored because she was not in the room during those segments.
It is important to note that pre-school children can very well follow the thread of information, even from one mind to another. What they find difficult is to discern the different contributions of reality to the mental process. They are, however, aware that knowledge has its origin in the exposure to reality, and from the age of four or five they understand that information belongs to different types of mental representations. They known, and begin to understand, that knowing comes from smelling, tasting, touching, hearing what others tell them, and such is the origin of inferences. This means that the leap from a passive mind to an active mind marks the appearance of the main experiences of knowledge, which at that time will cause an effect on states of mind, emotions and social inferences.
3. THE ORIGINS OF THOUGHT ACCORDING TO PIAGET AND FLAVELL
3.1 The origins of thought according to Piaget
The concept of origin implies the existence of a beginning, the initial stages of thought, which Piaget interprets as the appearance of language. I will explain below the evolution of language for this author, for whom the egocentric language marks the initial stage followed by the different phases of social language. Piaget highlights the relevance of language for reason, acknowledging language as one of the components of the superstructure of the human mind, and consequently of the origins of thought. Language appears as an instrument of the cognitive and affective capacity of the individual, indicating that a child’s knowledge of the world depends on their linguistic abilities. Piaget aims to explain how thought is born from a child’s language configuration, from early babbling to logic and fluent language. His view of the origins of thought is based on the function played by language for the child, and he focuses in the classification of the different phrases said by children. And as such these phrases belong to two main groups, egocentric language and social language, which can be further subdivided.
a) Egocentric language. It is the language of the child unaware of who they are talking to or if anyone is listening to them. It is egocentric because the child talks about themselves and most importantly because they do not attempt to take the place of their listeners. It comprises echolalia, monologue and collective monologue.
b) Echolalia or repetition. Children repeat syllables or words they have heard even if they mean nothing to them. They repeat them just for the joy of talking, not intending to direct them to anyone.
c) Monologue. Children talk to themselves as if thinking aloud. Because they do not talk to anyone else, these words lack social function and only serve to accompany or replace actions. The link between words and actions is much stronger in children than in adults.
d) Social language. It implies the adaptation of information. Children aim at communicating their thoughts, informing the listener of something that could be of interest or influence their conduct, which can lead to exchange, discussion or collaboration.
The information is directed to a specific listener, and it comprises:
a. Orders, requests and threats. While orders and threats may be easy to recognise, some relevant distinctions must be made. A “request” is defined as any petition not made as a question, as any petition made as a question belongs in the class of the questions.
b. Questions. Most of the questions made from one child to another require an answer, so they are considered to be within social language. But one must be aware of those questions that imply no expectation for an answer because they may be answered by onself and as such constitute a monologue (Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children 39).
3.2 The origins of thought according to Flavell
To explain the origins of thought, Flavell’s theory begins by explaining the representations and processes used by children during symbolic play, while assuming that evolutionary changes during this cognitive activity appear in a continuous and spiral form. The origins of thought, symbolic play and child reasoning codify the children’s ability to learn from experience and lead to the development of rules and heuristics of thought.
a) Symbolic play. The elements present in this mental activity allow the researcher to detect thought in the child before the verbal phase, thanks to the presence of complex mental mechanisms that evolve from the initial schemes of action and imitation to games with rules and guidelines. This allows for socialisation as well as verbalisation of ideas, and implies that thought can be measured (Flavell, Cognitive Development 83).
Symbolic play can also contribute to form and exercise childhood creativity, because thanks to their spontaneity and curiosity children possess an innate imagination that facilitates the recreation in their mind of their own worlds. The relationship present between symbolic play and the origin of thought exists even before the ability to communicate verbally. This is, therefore, the key argument used by Flavell to found his thesis that thought exists before language does. Even if there appears to be an innate difficulty in measuring and quantifying this aspect, current advances in neuroscientific techniques such as magnetic resonance are shedding light on the subject and contributing interesting evidence in relation to this.
b) Metacognition.It is the ability to think about one’s own thought. The more metacognitive ability one has, the better the mental processes are, because metacognition allows for self-monitoring and self-control and for the knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as of the ways in which processes can improve. Flavell thinks that the relationship between metacognition and the origin of thought with symbolic play is due to the fact that the child begins to think of their own states of mind and moods, as well as those of their toys and, later on, those of those of other people. The child begins to adopt a new angle of view which takes part in specific patterns of behaviour for their toys, and as a result their first hypotheses on reality are built (Flavell, Cognitive Development 82).
Early child play consists on being entertained by a dummy, a rattle or a music box. These toys allow the child to acquire sensory information which aids in the generation of new neuronal connections, a key requisite for the further development of thought. The role of metacognition is to allow the child to be conscious of their own mental mechanisms which they use in their play, to later transfer them to more abstract areas. The link between the origin of thought and metacognition lies on the fact that children execute rudimentary metacognitive tasks during symbolic play.
c) The tendency towards cognitive balance. The relationship with the origin of thought is due to the fact that
children have a tendency from an early life towards cognitive and emotional balance. A survival skill, this impulse towards intellectual growth and emotional regulation manifests itself by means of curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning new experiences, ideas, concepts, in order to increase their mental universe. Conditions may exist that prevent and block this tendency to balance. Learning in an impoverished environment may be one of the factors that block cognitive and emotional development in pre-school age. It causes a number of ambivalent experiences, both cognitively and emotionally, that block the child’s progress and nourishing from the environment. Therefore, there is a risk for the child to regress and stay fixed in a zone of intellectual and emotional development that may not correspond to their real abilities (Flavell, Cognitive Development 90).
d) Belief systems. There is a link between belief systems in childhood and the origins of thought based on the needs of children to face a diversity of events, problems and sources of anxiety from the moment of birth. This is how their knowledge and their information usually complement with a set of newly acquired family and environmental beliefs which will progressively increase and become more complex with time. Children constantly require that which we know as “explanations” for everything that occurs around them, and expect them to fit the hypotheses that they had already formulated in their own mind. In Chomsky’s words “Our belief systems are those that the mind as a biological structure is destined to build” (Chomsky, 1967).
Chomsky’s words help us better understand why our belief systems are linked to the origin of thought. Both origin of thought and belief systems are formed from an early age and determine not only the child’s manifest conduct but also the child’s subjective conduct, that is, their emotions, as well as their cognitive processes and later on the presence of language. This means that a child’s conduct is centred on the most immediate consequences or contingencies required for adaptation to the environment, which in many occasions constitute instinctive impulses such as hunger, tiredness, thirst or temperature.
e) Affective link. The connection between the origin of thought and the affective link resides in the important influence of affectivity for the child’s mental development from the moment of birth and through life. The affective link is the series of mobiles that influence and provide nuances to the mental life of the child, and do so by determining their feelings, values and as such are the path that guides their conduct.
The neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel discovered that learning (the construction of neuronal connections) is a result of the action of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are produced when the person undergoes positive emotional states. Consequently, children that are happy, loved and well looked after learn better than those under conditions of emotional and cultural deprivation. Emotions, socialisation, values and cultural beliefs form the mental scaffolding on which children conceptualise their experiences or reality. Besides, children are born with cognitive schemes that could remain “inactive” or otherwise latent through their early years, and facing trigger events of physical, biological or social origin these schemes may activate and act through specific situations producing cognitive distortions. This happens when a child states that the long glass contains more water, so the Piagetian test of conservation of quantity amongst other situations is an example of automatic cognition (Flavell, Cognitive Development 90).
4. COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES ACCORDING TO PIAGET AND FLAVELL
4.1. Cognitive development strategies according to Piaget.
Piaget regards cognitive strategies as a set of mental actions to be applied in a specific context for a specific aim. There are different types of cognitive strategies:
4.1.1. Specific strategies.
Examples of these are inductive reasoning, classification or comparison. However, some rudimentary strategies such as animism, syncretism or centration are used by children and are present in pre-school thought (Piaget, The Psychology of Intelligence 14).
a) Invariant cognitive strategies. These are schemes that allow the individual to solve problems through life. Both adaption and organisation continue operating throughout the whole life cycle, but there is a change in the general cognitive styles used to handle information, and specific strategies adopted throughout development keep changing and may span from very rudimentary, such as syncretism, through to the most advanced strategies, such as transduction, critical thought or synthesis. These strategies arise from ideas related to the way we handle information about the environment, and they can be applied to many different situations. Early strategies tend to be mainly built by reflexes and simple actions. As people assimilate and accommodate new information, cognitive strategies keep changing to allow more adequate ways to confront reality. Piaget describes cognitive development strategies as:
b) Syncretic thought strategies. According to these, children make reasoning mistakes by trying to link ideas that show no relation. An example of this is when child who saw their mother having a baby the last time she went to hospital may erroneously think that she will also have a baby next time she goes to hospital.
c) Animist thought strategies. They involve the attribution to inanimate objects of qualities specific of living beings. Children may do this with objects that represent living things such as stuffed animals or dolls.
d) Centration cognitive strategies. The inability of children to think logically is based on the fact that they can only centre their attention on one aspect or detail of a situation at a time. This inability to consider other details is known as cognitive centration.
4.1.2. Higher level cognitive strategies according to Piaget.
a) Transductive reasoning. It is the ability to obtain separate portions of information and join them to form a hypothesis of to reach a conclusion. Individuals in the formal stage are capable of applying this cognitive strategy.
b) Comparison. This cognitive strategy enables the determination of similarities and differences between objects or facts according to their characteristics. For comparison to be possible, the perception of objects needs to be clear and stable.
c) Classification. This cognitive strategy enables the grouping of elements in categories according to their defining attributes. The group criteria are arbitrary and depend on the individual needs; they may be natural or artificial whether they are based on things or from elaborate criteria (Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children 49).
d) Codification-decodification. It enables to establish or interpret symbols so that they do not leave room for ambiguity. This mental strategy enables to widen the terms and symbols as abstraction increases (Piaget, The Psychology of Intelligence 20).
4.2 Cognitive development strategies according to Flavell.
In contrast, Flavell understands childhood mental strategies as powerful intellectual tools to allow for improvement in use, efficacy and efficiency of thought (Flavell, Cognitive Development 99).
4.2.1. Symbolic representation.
It is the capacity to do one thing separately from another, and it is one of the essential achievements of young thinkers. Recent advances in neuropsychology and electroencephalography have made it possible to observe that young children in the pre-verbal stage are able to create mental images. At the end of the second year of life children are aware that an image, a word, a gesture or a toy, correspond to a real object or an event. These skills in symbolic representation contribute to the language boost that occurs at this age. Children also begin to acquire abilities such as artistic skills, symbolic play and numeric skills. The three main representational skills are:
a) Models. They refer to the mental ability needed to know that things can be the same even if their dimensions change. When an adult shows a kid a doll, a small dog or a large Sponge Bob toy, and then explains what size room this model corresponds to – e.g., the large Sponge Bob belongs in a large room and a small Sponge Bob belongs in a small room – he may explain that these things are the same and only the size changes. To solve the task, the child needs to be able to consider the model as two things at the same time (Flavell, Cognitive Development 101).
b) Pretend play. It is an intentionally pretended situation about the current situation. When pretending that a banana is a phone for the first time, the child builds up a counterfactual representation of the world. These representations are animated from his factual experience. Young children give away many clues with their representational play to understand that they may be representing real objects. And in fact, objects that pretend to be something else are real in their imagination (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 110).
c) The development of pretend play. It consists mainly of behaviour routines adapted from real situations to an imaginary game. The child that is tired and goes to sleep, does it in bed, whereas the child that pretends to go to sleep, does it at times disconnected from the normal routine. It is obvious that the child knows they are pretending and they even instruct their playmates on how the scenario of play is meant to be. Imaginary game slowly becomes more socialised. The ability for dramatic play appears around the five years of age and children achieve this without mistakes on the roles they play in the game. Children can, therefore, relate better to those mental activities that involve simulation, because they are more in accordance with their stage of cognitive development (Flavell, Cognitive Development 115).
d) Events of knowledge and scripts. Children represent events in their minds, and these become powerful tools of thought because in the world of childhood people and objects do things. This is how children begin to compose little scripts to understand the world. Scripts allow the child to predict what could happen in the near future, and are also important as the foundations of social interaction. It is much easier for children to organise their life following those scripts than according to hierarchical taxonomic categories. These scripts change according to the child’s priorities and needs, and they play a key role in cognitive development. These scripts develop in relation to the representation of scenes and causal physical relationships, and for this reason these scripts are used to satisfy children’s wishes, which they achieve with the aid of imagination (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 115).
Scripts emerge before taxonomical concepts, allowing and promoting their development in order to generate sequentially organised events. It has been explained in a number of studies why causal relationships are crucial for the child’s cognitive development, because this is a prior step to conceptual generalisation. In short, children possess complex cognitive abilities that are thus far mostly unknown.
e) Concepts and categories. A concept refers to an entity that may be generalised in all instances of a definition. That is, it is a mental group in which all entities have some similarities or things in common. Concepts are used to split the world, otherwise impossible to manage, into useful categories. A crucial question is “What criteria do children use when they think about things and how do these criteria change during cognitive development?” (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 117).
f) Natural types of classes. It is essential that the child infers those characteristics that are important and makes inferences despite being guided by perception. In studies regarding the formation of a concept it has been shown that children frequently have difficulties to distinguish reality from fantasy. Thus, they may get caught in classification criteria that are superficial, and this tendency to generalise perceived characteristics results in difficulties in conceptualisation.
g) Nominal classes. Defined by human convention, nominal classes have concepts that are clearly stated in the dictionaries and also represent a category of artefacts that are objects created by humans such as cups, chairs, cars or computers. The researchers GELMAN and MARMAN use the knowledge of these categories to make inferences about the world. But not all categories lead to inferences. Children need not only to make inferences but also to avoid generalisations that are too wide. Natural classes usually carry within them the essence of their nature (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 118).
h) Levels and hierarchies. Concepts differ not only in the classes of entities but also in the level of abstraction of the entity they represent. A dog, for example, can not only be included in the class of “pets” but also in other more specific categories. The basic level of representation is that which offers categories of similarities that are different from others (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 120).
5. COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS BETWEEN PIAGET AND FLAVELL
Intelligence consists not only of knowledge, but also of the ability to apply this knowledge to practice. (Aristotle) Based on the quote by Aristotle on the importance of intelligence lying in the application and transfer of knowledge, this section will follow a comparative analysis of the theories of cognitive development according to Piaget and Flavell based on four fundamental conceptual categories – mechanisms of cognitive development, stages of intellectual development, the origin of thought and thought strategies – as proposed by each author. The purpose of this section is to apply the knowledge acquired on the theories of Piaget and Flavell with the aim to search for similarities and differences in the mechanisms, stages, origin and cognitive strategies. This will allow the determination of agreements and disagreements between them on a conceptual theoretical level, which will lead to the final conclusions of this chapter.
First, I will introduce the most relevant cognitive limitations encountered by Flavell in the pre-school stage and the validity of his hypothesis regarding intellectual abilities that are stronger than previously thought. I need to stress this vision because I personally share it and I consider it much more relevant for the cognitive reality of childhood. Flavell’s interpretation of the pre-school child’s thought may seem simplistic and too tied to perception, but this is due to the little experience and limited short-term storage memory that pre-school children have when compared to older children. Some of the most significant limitations of childhood thought are: coding of the acquired information, execution of mental operations and achievement of the objectives in the tasks that they must accomplish. Flavell’s position is that children are more competent than previously thought by Piaget. This has been evidenced by a number of studies on cognitive development that used techniques such electroencephalogram, magnetic resonance or other innovations from the neurosciences.
Notably, the secrets of the brain have begun to be revealed in the past two decades, thanks to a fertile association between brain sciences and technology, and in particularly the use of information technology for the development of neuroimaging and molecular biology. The growing body of knowledge on brain development, biology, functions and malfunctions has provided grounds to support the thesis that postulated a complex and irregular cognitive development. Cognitive development is discontinuous and happens in stages that change abruptly from one to the next, each showing quantitative differences. Besides, the part memory plays on this is understated, and its relevance has not fully been reported. Flavell defends that cognitive development is continuous, spiral-shaped, and as a result there are no stages. Cognitive changes that occur are qualitative, and memory plays an essential part in the cognitive performance of children. I will next develop these ideas, under a vision that resembles the theory of information processing.
5.1. Research methodology
Much of Flavell’s work has been based on research data obtained by applying tests created by Piaget. These data, however, underwent thorough analysis and experiments were carried out by a greater number of researchers using some of the newest techniques in neuroscience. As a result, the research methods used by Piagetian researchers and by Flavell are quite different. Piaget had trust on observations – mainly of his own children – and on the explanations children gave on how they solved problems. He recorded detailed observations of his three children, which were used as the grounds for his books. Therefore, even if his data are naturalistic, they lack experimental rigour. Besides, his research methodology was distinctly verbal, and consequently the cognitive capacity of pre-verbal children was underestimated. Flavell stresses the need to understand how changes occur in cognitive development, including those processes of the mind that may occur without adult mediation because they are interpreted as stages of mental development.
Besides, Flavell suggests that cognitive changes happen as a result of an irregular, spiral-shaped expansion of mental structures. This is in opposition to Piaget’s theory of cognitive stages, according to which the child’s mental development is similar to the metamorphosis that mediates the transition from caterpillar to butterfly. Researchers who followed Flavell’s approach have used controlled experiments to obtain information on how cognitive development occurs on the pre-school stage. In numerous investigations carried out on the theory of mind it was shown that small children assigned a series of complex emotional and cognitive states to their toys. It was inferred from this research that children are capable of predicting the behaviour of people based on their wishes, interests, tastes, feelings and thoughts.
5.2. Mechanisms of cognitive development
Piaget understands the mechanisms of cognitive development as the practical means employed by the individual in order to achieve an aim. Some of the key mechanisms employed are assimilation and accommodation, which facilitate cognitive adaptation in order to assimilate new learning with the aim to reach equilibrium. Flavell, however, associates the mechanisms of cognitive development with the processes of automation (to improve mental efficacy with practice), codification (to focus on the relevant aspects of a problem), generalisation (to generalise by employing inductive reasoning) and strategy construction (recreation of new strategies aimed at problem solving).
Despite the number of mechanisms remaining equal – four – between the two authors, these differ greatly in type and in the cognitive functions each one accomplishes. Piaget’s mechanisms appear in all stages of cognitive development, and being genetic they are adaptive. For Flavell these mechanisms will not necessarily be available throughout the entire life, but instead will become more complex or simpler as determined by specific
The mechanisms of cognitive development mentioned by Piaget are closely linked to schemas and cognitive structures because they are determined by the way the individual organises their knowledge, by assimilating and adapting it to previously existing intellectual structures. Flavell, however, defends that the processes of automation, coding, generalisation and strategy construction, while contributing to problem solving, can each time be recreated in different and varied ways. According to Piaget, these mechanisms will be present throughout the person’s life, while for Flavell they become more complex, and may be modified qualitatively depending on specific needs. In fact, these cognitive mechanisms will continue to improve during mid childhood and adolescence as a direct consequence of formal instruction at school and formal learning at the beginning of childhood. As a result, those cognitive mechanisms that were rudimentary and imprecise in early childhood become more powerful and transferable at a later age.
5.3. Stages of cognitive development
There are for Piaget four stages of cognitive development, which are:
1) Sensorymotor stage. From birth to two years of age, the child is capable of acquiring information about the world with the use of action schemas.
2) Pre-operational stage. From two to seven years of age, the child develops thought, which is irreversible, egocentric and fantasy-based, and learns new notions with the help of language.
3) Operational stage. From seven to eleven years of age, children utilize mental operations and distance themselves from sensory information. Socialisation increases and thought becomes more logical.
4) Formal stage. From the age of eleven onwards. Children develop abstract thought, are capable of formulating hypotheses, inference, synthesis, etc.
The cognitive development progress determined by these four stages is lineal and grows in step-like increments. The implication of this is that there is a great difference between what a child can do in a specific stage and in the next. This sequence marks the evolution of the child from physical action to a symbolic state of mental representations. Flavell, on the other side, understands not stages of cognitive development but a dialectic development that appears irregularly and that is formed by five stages or ways in which the mind becomes progressively more complex. The first cognitive step in childhood is to become aware of the existence of the mind – i.e., to be conscious that one is a thinking being – and the second step is related to the fact that there are connections in the mind – i.e., that the environment provides influence and information. The third stage is the understanding that mind and physical world are separated and different entities – the child knows that thinking about something is different from that thing existing. Lastly, the fifth stage is marked by the ability of the mind to actively mediate the interpretation of reality.
In my opinion, under these arguments, the fundamental difference between both authors is that Flavell tries to explain with his theory and experiments that pre-school children are intellectually capable, and that they are able to achieve, if trained, many cognitive operations of the higher stages. The theoretical foundations of a spiral and irregular cognitive development are in accordance with this statement. Flavell gives importance to the mediation of parents, teachers and relatives to create cognitive unbalances, but it is also essential that children grow in an secure and affective environment that will allow them to continue learning to be independent by assuming the responsibility of their own actions. Piaget, on the other side, considers that these stages appear in a regular, steady, lineal form.
According to this theory, evolutive, biological and genetic processes impart diverse cognitive capabilities of superior order to children simply with time. This is due to the consideration that cognitive development is something innate and genetically predetermined that appears gradually and naturally even without the mediation of adults, the environment or socialisation. However, this often cannot be accomplished because many children present features of thought that belong in previous evolutionary stages or, conversely, in later evolutionary stages, when compared to children their own age. As they appear, cognitive changes are qualitative, meaning that even young children may show complex thought, but this is dampened by the lack of experience and information necessary to give logical answers to the problems they face. According to Flavell there are no such stages of cognitive development. Memory also has an essential role in the development of children’s thought because they require a prime matter to be able to think, or, what is the same, storage of information in their cognitive archives.
In conclusion, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development are consecutive and fragmented, and they exist mainly as a result of biological processes. Flavell, on the other side, does not describe stages that follow a lineal order but instead proposes that there are capabilities or cognitive states that become the foundation for future development. One of the greatest difficulties and advantages of this approach is that, unlike Piaget’s, it is not divided into age brackets, and this makes it difficult to understand the sequence by which those capabilities appear. It is instead a contributor to the theoretical explanation that cognitive development is a spiral-shaped process.
5.3.1. The origin of thought
Piaget believes that the origin of thought is linked to language acquisition. According to his theory, pre-verbal children show reflex actions that will then be assimilated into action schemas and later on into thoughts that will turn into words with the acquisition of language. Piaget explains that thanks to language the child is capable of reconstructing and remembering facts from the past, as well as planning and anticipating future actions. These two possibilities provide a range of materials for children’s thought. Moreover, the author emphasizes the importance of social and spiritual pressure for the appearance, the use and improvement of language. Piaget understands language and thought as two sides of the same coin. Contrary to Piaget’s proposal, Flavell rejects the thesis that links language to the origin of thought. For him there is thought long before language appears, and the difficulty resides on finding the adequate means to detect and measure thought in pre-verbal children.
Recently, thanks to electroencephalogram and magnetic resonance techniques, it has been possible to prove that in children brains complex mental operations have been happening from birth. This author explains that mental representations and images during symbolic play are essential, as well as the ability to recognise certain types of objects based on a generic model. Later on, with the acquisition of language, the child begins to script their games and their toys’ conversations. It should be noted that this author partially accepts the thesis proposed by Piaget because it supports the existence of pre-verbal thought, however it also explains that cognitive development accelerates with language acquisition.
In conclusion, Piaget links the origin of thought to language because the child is capable of advancing in time with the help of words by acquiring new notions, concepts and their view of world and reality. For Flavell, however, pre-school children show innate and genetic cognitive abilities belonging to the human species, and consequently there is already thought in pre-verbal children. Both approaches coincide on the need to prioritise on intellectual capabilities to allow children’s thought development while improving their emotional and social capabilities.
5.4. Strategies of cognitive development
Flavell understands cognitive development strategies as powerful thought tools. Some of the main strategies used are symbolic representation (thinking in the absence of concrete support), the use of models to acknowledge the elements belonging to certain classes, imitation, scripts, nominal classes, levels, hierarchies, concepts, etc. Flavell thinks it necessary to develop the abovementioned strategies in order to teach children specific steps to recognise the most relevant aspect of a problem. At a later age, the number of steps to be followed will increase as their memory becomes strengthened with practise.
Studies on the acquisition of strategies for the development of thought have shown that children learn a series of pathways for the resolution of intellectual problems that they were presented. Their mistakes are due to poor performance, with logical errors, and this is why they need more experience to be able to perform correctly as well as to apply an adequate cognitive strategy. Piaget groups cognitive development strategies in three types, including invariable strategies, which occur throughout the person’s lifetime, and preoperational thought strategies, such as syncretism, animism and centration, which describe a thought that is unreal, fictitious and egocentric, focused on the sensorial and irreversible. Finally, Piaget talks about superior order strategies, which are mental operations such as classification, comparison, inductive reasoning and decodification.
These abilities are described from an accumulative point of view, from which it becomes necessary to develop the more simple strategies mentioned above to arrive at these superior or more advanced ones. Flavell concludes that even the youngest children possess the potential for cognitive strategies, and it must be considered that these strategies appear following the child’s needs and are developed by practise and transferred to other areas. A conclusion of Flavell’s is that children are often unable to realise how insufficient their cognitive strategy is in order to solve a problem because they do not decipher the relevant features of the situation. On the other side, Piaget maintains that a necessary prerequisite for a strategy to appear is the control over earlier and more elementary strategies.
Piaget’s interest on child development arose from his passion for biology and for a branch of philosophy named epistemology, the study of the origin and evolution of knowledge. Piaget greatly contributed to the understanding of the child’s intellectual development, and he promoted the idea that cognitive development should be understood as the succession of a series of stages. First, these stages are qualitatively different. Second, the transition from one stage to the next is abrupt. Third, concurrence assumption – a specific stage of development in which children apply the same type of thought about the world to a wide spectrum of cognitive tasks. Piaget maintained that children’s comprehension is limited by the stage of intellectual development they have achieved, and that they cannot be taught to think and act at higher levels until the lower levels have been reached.
Piaget’s proposed notion of lineal stages has been recently challenged thanks to two types of discoveries – firstly, that cognitive development cannot be pigeonholed in stages because it is best described continuously with qualitative changes rather than being a lineal process that happens in a gradual manner due to the influence of genetics. Secondly, it appears now that pre-school children are a lot more competent than Piaget thought. This hardly supports a cognitive development that responds to a series of stages that build upon each other, but rather a spiral trend, in which an individual may or may not be able to perform the cognitive operations expected of them regardless of their age. Besides, according to Flavell there are two main issues with Piaget’s theory. The first one consists in the formulation of ideas in itself. He sometimes states them in vague or very general ways, and sometimes they are not even subject to experimental proof, and if they are, the data do not always support the reported theoretical findings. An example of this is a key feature of Piagetian theory, the statement that reasoning in different tasks will show characteristics of the stage in which the child is.
However, there are complications that the theory cannot explain satisfactorily, such as the tasks of conservation of number, class inclusion or seriation amongst others. Another fundamental problem of Piagetian theory is that it often finds support on unreliable empiric evidence. This is because children’s statements are mainly based on informal observational studies that rely on the children’s ability to verbally explain what they are doing and also because of the lack of experimental controls. Piaget shows a tendency to focus on things that children cannot do at particular developmental stages. Flavell and other researchers, on the contrary, use more rigorous experimental techniques in their later work, to show that children can be encouraged to solve problems that Piaget stated that they could not solve.
These experiments show that children are cognitively more competent than previously thought, and consequently they show conceptual understanding which could not be explained using Piaget’s traditional experimental methods. The current experimental tendency is to decrease the number of things they have to remember, giving them more simple and clear instructions and eliminating false clues to facilitate problem solving and knowledge application by pre-school children. Finally, I would like to note that I share and I identify with John Flavell’s position, because his dialectic approach on intelligence and cognitive development takes on one of the fundamental problems on the understanding of the mind that we currently have. Understanding that thought development is spiral-shaped process, with steps backwards and forwards, we comprehend its complexity. Because there are no recipes or stiff dogmas to follow, I consider this approach much richer and contextualised. Besides, it answers many concerns posed by those of us who dedicate ourselves to the beautiful labour of cultivating minds and teaching them how to think.
1. Flavell, J. Cognitive Development: Children. Knowledge about the Mind. CD-ROM. California, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 2001.
2. Flavell, J. Cognitive Development. CD-ROOM California, Dep. of Psychology,
Publisher Prentice Hall, 2000.
3. Flavell, J. Development of Knowledge about the Appearance-Reality Distinction. CD-ROOM. Chicago, Publisher Edition Softcover, 2001.
4. Flavell, J. El desarrollo Cognitivo (Cognitive development).
Tercera edición, Madrid, Editorial Paidós, 2000.
5. Flavell, J. On cognitive development. &Child Development. CD-ROOM Stanford, Department of Psychology, 53, 1-10, 1982.
6. Flavell J. y David Elkind. Studies in Cognitive Development: Essays in Honor of Jean Piaget. CD ROOM. Edition Hardcover, Publisher Oxford University Pr., 2000.
7. Piaget, Jean. Seis estudios de psicología (Six Psychological Studies), International Universities Press, Inc., Barcelona, 1983.
8. Piaget, Jean. The Psychology Of Intelligence, Publisher: Littlefield Adams & Co, New York, 2000
9. Piaget, Jean. The Origins Of Intelligence In Children, Publisher: International Universities Press, Inc., New York, 1999.
Enjoy the little things
and later you will find that they were large…
Application of the Approach
2. EDUCATIONAL GUIDELINES DERIVED FROM THE VIEWS OF PIAGET AND FLAVELL
In this chapter I will discuss the educational guidelines I have developed from the cognitive development theories of Piaget and Flavell considered previously. These are: To exercise working memory, and how to improve working memory? To respect different learning paces.
To improve the quality of education by means of meaningful learning. To develop research of education at the pre-school level. I would like to emphasize that when discussing educational guidelines I do not intend to provide recipes or to say what is right or wrong in pre-school education and how we should proceed, because to do so would involve too much responsibility. Besides, education being a self-explanatory science in the pedagogical practise, it would be difficult for pre-established models to work in specific contexts as if they were magical formulas that are able to solve all problems. I will then explain some educational implications that derive from Piaget given the characteristics of cognitive development derived from his theory, which are:
Types of objectives in a subject.
How to introduce concepts.
Traditional logic vs. formal logic.
I will use the Flavellian approach as an enhancer of thought development, and I would like to jointly propose three thought development programs that Flavell’s theories have applied – psycholinguistics, Bono’s lateral thinking and philosophy for children. I will also introduce a few educational strategies that follow Flavell’s approach, eg. deconcentration techniques and metacognition. Later on I will discuss some of Piaget’s contributions to pre-school education, such as the logical sequence of learning and Piaget’s contribution to curriculum consolidation. Furthermore, I will discuss the Piagetian theory with regards to its application to education – the attributes of this theory being hierarchization, integration, consolidation, the consolidative property, structuration and equilibration. I will also briefly describe some factors of the teaching and learning process according to Flavell, in relation to applied language and to cognitive development, and its link with the model of information release. Finally, I will develop the sequential patterns of cognitive structures to attempt to provide an answer to the question “how does the process of cognitive development work?”. I will then provide conclusions to this chapter.
2.1. Educational guidelines according to Piaget and Flavell.
2.1.1. Guidelines according to Flavell.
Following Flavell’s approach, the following educational guidelines can be extracted:
a) Exercising work memory. Flavell states that work memory is the means by which mental processes progressively become automatic. Children that develop their work memory in a more sophisticated way are able to solve problems and check their hypotheses. The use of work memory needs to be optimised through experience, practise and the acquisition of different mental operations that facilitate the adaptation to the environment. Work memory functions to achieve the organised storage of information that has been acquired through perception. This is then stored in cognitive files and long-term memory where the two neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine work towards the storage of knowledge permanently (Flavell, Cognitive Development 74).
How can work memory be improved? Flavell understands work memory as a key element of the cognitive mechanisms. This is unlike Piaget, whose approach is based on two factors being the source of work memory changes – automation and biological maturation (Flavell, Cognitive Development 75).
b) Automation. It can be derived from Flavell that education involves the contribution of the teaching and learning process to cognitive processes and mental operations that lead to automation. Flavell states that automation is the mechanism by which a complex problem becomes familiar and its solution becomes mechanical. It relieves the cognitive overload typical of the novice, leaving plenty of free room in the work memory and better mental performance. The fact that this is achieved after hours of tedious practise has been demonstrated in numerous studies of cognitive development. This is one of the factors that explain why an individual is more intelligent and shows better performance than another in the different areas of execution (Flavell, Cognitive Development 80).
c) Biological maturation. Flavell explains that biological maturation and its neuro-psychological explanation allow the understanding of spiral cognitive development because most of the neuronal connections are formed during the first few years of life. Neurons undergo changes in electric activity and structure, developing those neuronal regions located in the frontal lobe characterised by metacognitive thought and executive work (Flavell, Cognitive Development 81).
The resulting educational guideline is to respect the different learning paces and individuality of each student. As such, educational levels would be set according to accomplishments, and progress would be set according to the acquisition of diverse mental operations and the ability to apply them to different areas. All things considered, what is relevant is to achieve significative learning, for children to be able to solve problems, to self-regulate and self-control, all of which are basic elements of metacognition (Flavell, Cognitive Development 57).
Flavell emphasizes the need to give children enough practise to acquire more information and experience, to prevent them from remaining in a perceptual phase. This enables their thought to be more logical and organised through a series of problem-solving strategies using the knowledge progressively acquired in the process of cognitive development (Flavell, Cognitive Development 78).
Flavell’s theories give origin to the following guideline – “enhancing the quality of education involves the construction of mental strategies”. Good teachers are needed for this. It is important to teach to think through steps aimed at acquiring mental operations with the potential to be made general and available to other areas.
2.1.2. Guidelines according to Piaget.
The following educational guidelines follow from Piaget’s approach:
a) Piaget states that intellectual and emotional development occur in parallel, because no act is purely intellectual and emotional mobiles, the regulation between different interests and the value that the child gives to different types of lies needs to be accounted as well. Love, for example, involves not only feelings and emotions, but also comprehension (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 30).
The educational guideline that follows from Piaget’s work is “to develop emotional competence in children from pre-school age, and this will later be a foundation for cognition”. New pedagogical methodologies aimed at teaching emotional competence, together with scientific advances, have allowed us to go further in the discovery of details pertaining to the emotional world of childhood and its link to cognition. Electroencephalograms have released relevant data on the function of the amygdala in the brain. It gets activated during mental operations and can block the ability to reason if there is no emotional harmony. The pre-school age spans years that are very fruitful in both the emotional and cognitive realms and, if used properly, it would be easily achievable to have happier, more engaged children exhibiting logical thought processes.
b) Piaget states that “in each stage of cognitive development, children are able to learn only a certain type of concepts, ideas of a system of social values” (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 32).
This implies the following educational guideline – “the teacher can apply a series of adequate pedagogical strategies for each stage of cognitive development”. This point is critical for it means that the acquisition of knowledge does not occur in the same way at different ages. Children in pre-school age are therefore not content with words but they also need to experiment, imitate and act what they need to learn, in order for practise to mediate knowledge. Piaget notes that cognitive development appears as something discontinuous, and assumes that in order to reach a specific stage in cognitive development, it is necessary to mature biologically (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 33).
The guideline that follows is “the organisation of the educational institution by strict and limited levels according to age increments”. This implication handicaps the teaching and learning process and disrespects the student’s individuality and personality.
c) Piaget points out that “language is the tool used to express thoughts. Therefore language itself constitutes an entity of thoughts, concepts and relationships between them (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 35).
The resulting educational guideline is “to facilitate the development of language in order to activate intelligence and thought through the child’s education from the moment they learn to say their first words until they achieve fluent expression”. This contribution brings the difficulty that a large group of children with a limited vocabulary and in many cases pre-verbal become temporarily excluded. This does not mean that they lack thoughts, but that the instruments to measure their mental processes in an objective and quantitative way are not available.
d) Piaget points out that “intelligence is shaped by the influence of society, because it provides the individual with a symbolic system that modifies the way they think, feel, live in the surrounding environment through the use of signs, symbols, values, behaviour rules and others (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 84).
The educational guideline derived from this theoretical contribution is related to “the importance of providing an environment rich in experiences to allow the development of intelligence and the possibility to learn to think based on the surrounding environment”.
e) Jean Piaget defines “the existence of a number of stages in cognitive development. This implies the need to select the type of concrete and abstract materials required for the process of teaching and learning depending on the stage the learner is in” (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 84).
Thus, the guideline is “the build up of a guide for the selection of material with which children can work given the developmental stage in which they are”. It should be noted that the pre-school curriculum (containing what the child must learn) could be misinterpreting the child’s actual intellectual abilities. Instead, the child is going to be taught only those items that follow their stage of cognitive development.
In summary, the following guidelines are derived from Piaget’s work:
1. Intellectual development depends on the confrontation with the environment, both social and physical.
2. Intellectual development occurs in stages of cognitive development that occur in an invariable and organised manner following a sequence of increments.
3. The acquisition of new knowledge is the result of assimilation and accommodation processes whose objective is the equilibration of the cognitive structure.
4. Language facilitates the understanding of different meanings and plays different roles depending on the level of development (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 87).
2.2. Teaching strategies derived from the Piagetian conception of intelligence.
2.2.1. The curriculum according to Piaget.
The curriculum requires specific teaching strategies because these reflect the pedagogical conception handled by the teacher, illustrated in the teaching and learning process as well as in the results obtained (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 90).
If an educator believes, therefore, that learning arises from memorisation and repetition, this will be reflected in his pedagogical strategy. However, if learning through discovery is considered more important, including accepting the uncertainty of life, acknowledging one’s own mistakes and learning of mutual understanding, the educator will use creative techniques to allow the learners to achieve these skills. Sociological research at the school level has shown that teaching strategies do not only depend on the teacher’s beliefs but also on the type of subject’s objectives and the type of teaching topic, and even on the nature of the teaching and learning process (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 130).
2.2.2. Teaching technique.
Piaget reports that the collision of various factors relevant to a specific and intentional action affects the ability to achieve learning that belongs to the cognitive development stage the student is in. Therefore, the teacher armed with a range of didactic and pedagogical techniques is able to induce a degree of cognitive imbalance which in turn will prompt thought development and long-lasting learning (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 133).
An example of this is if an educator provides the egocentric child with adequate mental strategies for their cognitive level, to enable them to consider not only their point of view but also that of others (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 132).
2.2.3. Introduction of concepts.
For Piaget the school is not the only institution in charge of introducing concepts, verbal and non-verbal strategies, questions, exhibitions or manipulation experiences. These are also provided by the family from the moment it presents the child with numerous basic notions for the formation of concepts in later years (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 133).
Only an organism that is biologically and genetically set for growth can grow and develop. Consequently, to achieve significative learning, the teacher must facilitate for children, in each stage of cognitive development, to achieve assimilation, accommodation and adaptation of new concepts. The contribution of Piaget was to explain that as their chronological age advances, children shed what is concrete and acquire the ability to think abstractly and with concepts, and they finally understand complex conceptual categories.
2.2.4. Classroom ecology.
Classroom ecology is, according to Piaget, the environment that offers the teacher the opportunity to mediate learning and display them adequately with the help of their beliefs in education and their teaching techniques. Here a series of pedagogical experiences will take place that will facilitate the intake and transfer of knowledge (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 134).
As stated by Piaget, language is seen as an instrument of the cognitive and affective capacity of an individual. This indicates that the linguistic knowledge a child may possess depends on their knowledge of the world (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 134).
Thus, the educator should be aware of the tight relationship between a child’s thought and language. The majority of research techniques aimed at evaluating cognitive development were based on the ability to express verbally, as there is a direct link between thought development and specific language skills such as use of vocabulary, understanding, coherence and speech fluency.
Piaget emphasises that if a child in pre-school age uses words that are defined as abstract, this does not mean that the child has an actual understanding of the terms. This depends, instead, on the stage of cognitive development the child is in (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 101).
The apparent lack of cognitive efficiency seen in the child’s early years is due to their lack of vocabulary and to the lack of maturity of their cognitive processes. That is, children may have an appropriate contextual use of a word at an early age, but when they need to explain why and generalise, their answers differ greatly from those of adults. How is the depth of conceptual comprehension of a specific word assessed? As explained previously, it is usual for children to show partial knowledge rather than general and deep understanding (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 135).
2.2.6. Traditional logic.
One of the greater dilemmas Piaget had with regards to traditional logic is that answers are pigeonholed into right and wrong. As such, it neglects more open forms of classification that allow for the existing diversity and originates forms of reasoning that are too specific and prevent creativity. Children should be allowed to freely explore objects, ideas or feelings to find diverse forms of classification which would contribute to children’s autonomy at different levels (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 101).
2.3. Flavell – empowering the development of thought.
Flavell’s view supports that children are more competent than Piaget previously thought. This is supported by studies carried out by neuropsychologists on cognitive development with the application of techniques such as electroencephalogram, magnetic resonance and other innovations of neuroscience (Flavell, Cognitive Development 37).
a) Under this premise, Flavell points out that one of the main characteristics of children’s pre-school thought is the lack of perceptive inhibition reflected in the wrong answers given when tested for intelligence, even if these children have the potential intellectual capability to give correct responses. They need, therefore, to learn to block the many cognitive strategies that compete in their mind. This is not quite so simple despite their great neuronal flexibility and the numerous synaptic connections that are being produced at this stage in their lives.
b) The dominant Piagetian approach poses a difficulty in the fact that teachers are firmly anchored on the idea of lineal cognitive development, and as such their pedagogical practise recalls lineal learning. They assume that the teaching and learning process occurs in increments or levels, following consecutive steps. This is often too rigid to meet the educational challenges necessary to create integral beings that are capable to adapt to our changing society, full of complexities and uncertainties. As Euripides said, what we expect does not happen, and for the unexpected the Gods leave a door open.
c) Flavell, on the other side, laments that the pre-verbal condition is not utilised in curricular plans and programs for pre-school children, both in traditional and progressive educational institutions. In fact, this characteristic of neural plasticity in the children’s brain is considered nowadays as a source of obstacles for education. I support some of the theoretical statements on cognitive development formulated by Flavell and applied to thought development programs, such as psycholinguistics, Bono’s lateral thinking and Philosophy for Children. The fact that Piaget and Flavell have not created thought development programs with specific strategies to be used in educational contexts marked by different levels is intriguing. Some new programs for thought development, however, present child development tools aimed at promoting their latent but unexploited cognitive abilities.
Next I will briefly outline these three programs, whose greatest weakness lies on the need for compulsory training for instructors. As they involve licence payment and authorisation for they use, they remain elitist and hard to acquire in practise. The following thought development programs have been applied at a large scale and fit the context of spiral-shaped cognitive development with backwards and forwards steps, in accordance to Flavell’s description of the process.
2.3.2. Bono’s creativity and lateral thinking.
A thought development program in agreement with Flavell’s approach is Edward de Bono’s creativity and lateral thinking. Its foundations reveal that in order to enhance creative thought it is essential to work on the mechanisms of cognitive development described by Flavell, such as automation (efficacy improvement by means of practise), codification (focusing on the relevant aspects of a problem), generalisation (using inductive and deductive reasoning to obtain generalisations) and strategy building (recreation of new strategies for the resolution of problems).
Bono’s thought development program arises from the theoretical basis that children learn from an early age to focus on solutions rather than problems when facing a specific situation. Besides, their radiant thought can be used because answers that are truly creative correspond to those that are original, that have not yet been posed and as a result search for other paths to solve everyday problems, lacking prior references and showing their effectiveness.
The author of this program employs tools and techniques such as PNI, the aim to find positive, negative and interesting points on a given situation, and CC, to think of the causes and consequences of a given situation. As a result, the child’s ideas become more flexible in relation to specific topics, and creativity is empowered. This program was implemented, to give an example, in Venezuela. During the process, an emergence of versatility was observed in children’s ideas, but the program could not be validated due to the lack of systematic monitoring to validate improvements and confirm the program’s worth.
2.3.3. Philosophy for Children.
Lipman, the author of this thought development program, uses the concept of stages of cognitive development proposed by Flavell in which there are no stages of cognitive development, but a form of dialectic development, irregularly shaped and divided into five stages or ways in which the vision of the world by the mind becomes progressively more complex. Matthew Lipman, a Professor of Philosophy himself, realised that young students in the early university years displayed thought patterns devoid of logic. As a result, teaching them to think in a sequential manner following Aristotelian rules was much more complex than teaching students in earlier levels of education. This observation is currently being supported by neuroscience as it has shown that neuronal plasticity is higher in early years. With this concern in mind, Lipman created a thought development program based on children’s stories containing fundamental topics that children, from four to twelve years of age, could understand and deepen into the content.
The technique applied was based in the creation of different types of questions that allowed children to realise their ability to solve problems with their imagination and to provide different answers to specific situations in order to find the origin of a problem. Children begin thinking of transcendental issues. The main difficulty of this program is its assumption that the child can handle superior order mental operations, and this is not always true. However, with the aid of basic training to exercise their cognitive abilities, and in certain contexts, it could provide the expected results. Nonetheless, the data available that validate the program are scarce. These thought development programs do not attempt to pigeonhole children on their age bracket of cognitive development. This is unlike the traditional Piagetian approach, which accounts strictly for the stage of cognitive development assigned to children at different ages. However, with the use of reflection and questions adequately formulated, these programs allow children to create and build their own cognitive instruments and mental operations, developing into critical people who are harder to cheat.
2.4. Educational strategies in accordance to Flavell’s approach.
Flavell considers that it is important to search for novelty while explaining cognitive development in the pre-school stage. He emphasises metacognition, a fundamental part of his theory, which is defined as the ability to regulate one’s own cognition, while being conscious of one’s own mental and affective processes because this facilitates adaptation to the social environment (Flavell, Cognitive Development 90).
2.4.1. Deconcentration technique.
Mental development in pre-school children is characterised by showing erroneous mechanisms of perception. The technique of deconcentration helps them to fix their attention on what is relevant or essential within a
problem, allowing them to give much more abstract and logical answers. This means that cognitively it is essential to block unnecessary information to enable the child to give the right answers. The best results were obtained in weight and quantity conservation experiments. Young children would give wrong answers but, when helped to pay attention to the essential characteristics of the problem, they were able to infer correctly in spite of not being in a higher stage of cognitive development (Flavell, Cognitive Development 90).
2.4.2. Qualitative and quantitative cognitive jump.
The technique of deconcentration – focusing on the essential – enables children to take a qualitative and quantitative jump to acquire clear characteristics of reversible thought related to substance, volume, length and area of objects. This is in opposition to the theory of Piaget, which sustained that only children in higher cognitive stages are able to arrange in series, classify or find relations between different variables amongst others.
2.4.3. The search for novelty and innovation.
The provision of novel stimuli is an important teaching and learning strategy and one of the most compatible with the cognitive structure of children in pre-school age. It works not only to achieve cognitive acceleration but also to potentiate and make the most of the intellectual abilities of children. If we consider that children in this generation are native in technology and have grown up watching television, using computers and playing video games, we can use the features that they show as a result such as multitasking or the difficulty to concentrate in a specific activity.
According to Flavell, it is the intellectual capacity that can be achieved at any age and facilitates the connection with other important types of operations in cognitive and emotional development. Traditional techniques for teaching and learning may underestimate the actual mental capacity of pre-verbal children. Flavell, therefore, introduces metacognition as an alternative in order to enable reflexive and autoregulated learning. An example of this is the situation when a child is corrected after making a mistake and allowed to be aware of this and correct the mistake by themselves (Flavell, Cognitive Development 94).
2.5. Piagetian contribution at the pre-school level.
2.5.1. Implications of the Piagetian theory for curriculum development.
a) The curriculum. It is the summit of every educational institution. It reflects the knowledge of what is expected from children to learn, absorb and accommodate in their cognitive and emotional structures. Piaget’s emphasis on genetic epistemology shows its relevance for its genuine interest on the scientific nature of knowledge. It contains principles that are relevant for the curriculum planning program in regards to pedagogical strategies for the classroom (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 95).
How is knowledge acquired? The curriculum must obviously be planned for each school year, and the materials needed for each level must be sequentially organised given the cognitive capacity of the learner and the subject’s own sequential logic. Thus, for children at the beginning of primary education it is essential to use a complete curricular system aimed at potentiating their cognitive and emotional capacity.
b) Logical sequence learning. Curriculum developers care not only about the what, what for and how of education but also about the way to establish logical sequences for the student’s actual zone of development as well as a logic that is relevant to each topic. Piaget describes the logical sequence as the way in which children of different ages think. Therefore, his theory aids in the establishment of curricular sequences where the resulting linearity and rigidity have previously been analysed. The work of Piaget provides a theoretical frame for curriculum planning, as it introduces general sequences from two different points of view – 1) guiding principles of the substantive organisation of knowledge, and 2) the student’s mental organisation. An example of this is the cognitive description of how geometrical mental operations develop (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 142).
c) Piaget’s contribution to curriculum organisation. His contribution to curriculum consolidation is formidable; however he must have never realised or visualised how important this was while he developed and presented his theory. I believe that, despite the subsequent innovations to take place in the area of education, the theoretical model of Piaget will always be a reference because of the many connections and points of mutual influence that exist between it and the task of education (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 117).
2.6. Piaget’s theory applied to education.
2.6.1. Extreme attitudes on the theoretical construct.
The theoretical model of Piaget is a natural invitation to adopting extreme attitudes of acceptance or rejection. Acceptation is generally related to those theoretical constructs of adaptation, equilibrium or assimilation, amongst others. These definitions are in themselves faithful to the biological and genetic conception of learning and as such they could promote a series of implications in the area of applied psychology and the practise of education. One of the key problems of Piaget’s theory is that it maintains an aura of prestige irreconcilable with the critical spirit necessary to explain several theoretical inconsistencies and the confusion between opinions, facts and empirical data. Another important conflict originated by this work is the method of reason employed, because it rejects any form of reductionism, be it phenomenological or psychological, on the attempt to explain the relationship existing between cognitive development stages and physiological processes, as well as all of its derived implications (Piaget, Six Psychological Studies 118).
2.6.2. Objections to the Piagetian theory.
There are great objections to the theoretical system of Piaget, including by those who defend pure methods with innovations and the consumers of theories, who criticise Piaget severely for his theoretical voids, his lack of postulates and the lack of variables that could enable verification of the hypotheses. These objections stress the fact that the theory of Piaget introduces more questions than solutions to cognitive problems, and that its conclusions belong to the field of theory rather than to scientific reality (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 110).
2.7. Qualities of Piaget’s theory.
The first criterion simply emphasises the need for a fix order in the succession of the different levels of cognitive development. The first problem that it presents is the transition from a stage to the next because a stage cannot be before the one that preceded it. Piaget made this fixed property clear, but he did not explain a direct relationship with chronological age or the biological changes that occur through time. Besides, he excludes the possibility of accounting for the physical, social or cultural characteristics of the environment that may have put the child’s development ahead of or behind his age.
Some researchers have stressed the importance of ethnic and cultural factors on cognitive development. It is therefore very probable that Piaget may have ventured onto a cloud-nine hypothetical level that has received relative experimental validation. The importance, however, of performing experimental comparative studies where the ethnic and cultural environment and its influence on cognitive development is accounted for, is currently accepted worldwide (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 120).
The second characteristic attributed to Piaget’s theory refers to that which was learned or acquired at an early stage and is already integrated in the mental structure. That is, learning does not occur as a replacement or juxtaposition, but as actual integration. There is an objection to this process of mere accumulation in mental operations (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 121).
A child can be pre-operational in certain areas but operational in others, without the existence of a real integration of cognitive abilities. A process of restructuration and coordination of all their cognitive archives would, nonetheless, be expected (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 133).
The first process that specifically needs to be worked on is that of genetic associations. These are the reflexes with which every child is born, which then are assimilated into action schemas and precede the stages of cognitive development. In the sensorimotor stage, for example, they appear at a completely undifferentiated level which is between the practical and cognitive-reflective levels. However, these successive rearrangements do not operate in an additive or subtractive way but mainly as if reflective intelligence were suppressed by practical intelligence at a specific point in time.
This integration process has a liberating property capable of enriching those skills that were formerly undistinguishable. Therefore, it cannot be stated that there exists an absence of mental operations aimed at conservation; instead, it can be stated that certain subphases are missing because there generally exist compensatory mechanisms that replace the transformations and changes through intuition at the pre-operational level until a level of permanence is reached (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 133).
The third essential characteristic of Piaget’s theory, consolidation refers to at least a type of recently acquired behaviour, which will in the future allow access to the following stage in cognitive development (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 134).
For example, while developing the ability to synchronise different concepts, the hierarchy and logic with which the child acquires these concepts possesses a lineal type of logic. When cognitive operations face a specific concept, three types of associations are possible.
The first one, identity, occurs when the relations between operations of specific associations of the object under study are designated. The transversality of concepts referring to different concepts – logical, sub-logical and practical – in all domains of application must be emphasised. Horizontality depends on the resistance to perceptual obstacles as well as on the characteristics of conceptual characterisation that allow children to horizontally assimilate dissimilar concepts (Piaget, Psychology and Pedagogy 94).
The ability to consolidate becomes more understandable if it is accepted that cognitive development may be slow. This must then be reconciled with the characteristics given to each stage of cognitive development. In order to make it simpler to accept consolidation, the following aspects must be considered:
1) Its hierarchical characteristics, in a specific order of appearance different from mental economy.
2) Its interactive characteristics, as well as the succession of different conceptual levels.
3) Its structuring characteristics, built up in synchrony.
4) Its cognitive balance characteristics, which can be described as successive levels of equilibrium in which both concepts can achieve accommodation (Piaget, Psychology and Pedagogy 95).
It is advisable to
specify that conceptual horizontality cannot be exclusively applied to an exceptional level of knowledge such as quantity, weight or volume.
Each concept can be acquired at a different age. Piaget’s criterion has moved from a position where it was thought that all temporospatial mental operations appeared automatically to a position in which they are considered as an application to a specific content (Piaget, Psychology and Pedagogy 95).
Piaget would undoubtedly have studied cases with correspondence and a low index of heterogeneity in the way they acquired different mental operations and accommodated them in their cognitive archives. There are, consequently, some inconsistencies when explaining how children overcome cognitive imbalances in order to acquire new learning. This indicates the need for rigorous experimental analysis and the verification of the variables proposed by Piaget (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Studies 150).
A developmental stage should satisfy the requirement for intellectual organisation at a level of functioning. Therefore, mental operations are not juxtaposed additively, but interconnected in reciprocal implications that depend on a group of structures. Generally, the majority of interpretations of structural characteristics provided by Piaget give great importance to the concept of mental operation. On a restricted scale, there are a series of mental operations that must be well handled by children in the pre-school stage. This poses a conceptual difficulty on how cognitive imbalance occurs before a student acquires a specific key concept which enables them to form other cognitive structures.
There is a well-known interdependence between certain concepts and the need for specific mental operations that enable the progress to the next cognitive development stage. The types of analysis carried out are strictly isomorphic because they are based on the same combination of fundamental cognitive operations and concept class association systems. Focus must be not only on the genetic aspects of cognitive development, but also on cultural, environmental, family and social factors and nuances. All these affect the acquisition of a mosaic of cognitive skills and abilities by the child in their early years which will later enable abstract and formal thought (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 162).
2.7.5. Cognitive balance.
The last feature of Piaget’s theory stresses the need for cognitive balance, acquired through succession of early levels of mental development. As a result, the core of evolution of thought development is built. Balance cannot be defined directly as a concept of stage, but it also plays a key role in the understanding of intelligence configuration. Age can be in some cases a good indicator of thought development, There are, however, two key issues on Piaget’s theoretical system: firstly, in regards to development continuity; secondly, in regards to the level of balance needed to advance to the next cognitive development stage (Piaget, The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive Structures 171).
2.8. Aspects of the teaching and learning process according to Flavell’s theory.
a) Functional aspects. One must be careful with the interpretation a priori of research data. As was previously mentioned, many children may show synchrony in their mental operations, but others, and in fact a vast majority, show synchrony in their mental operations, particularly in the initial stages, in which the child learns to inhibit their perceptual impulses, improve their work memory efficiency and modulate their motor impulses. It is important, in both the early and later stages, for children to build strong cognitive archives. For this it is necessary to give children as many experiences as possible related to what they are learning, to make the later stages easier. Working towards self-control and tolerance is also required (Flavell, Cognitive Development 117).
b) Formal aspects. One of the problems faced by the formal side is to be catalogued as merely descriptive in its function of discrimination and abstraction as well as its relation with the function and mechanisms of intelligence. Environment and language are also acknowledged in cognitive development for their importance in the evaluation of what children are thinking (Flavell, Cognitive Development 118).
2.8.1. Language applied to cognitive development according to Flavell.
a) Information processing model. The models created by researchers in the past decades regarding information processing and the process of language development have frequently been more implicit than explicit. The first information processing model attempted was very simple due to two aspects:
1) an adult has a wide vocabulary, which they can correctly pronounce, perceive and decode, and can be classified by an observer in traditional syntactic categories such as noun, verb or adjective; and
2) an adult has the ability as a matter of course and not of analysis to arrange these words to make sentences (Flavell, Cognitive Development 120).
b) The process of language development. The acquisition of adequate aspects has been described as gradual but uniform. It involves an approach to phonology, phoneme by phoneme, word by word, till the ability is achieved to emit whole sentences, one word at a time (Flavell, Cognitive Development 120).
This is founded on the wave of psycholinguistics initiated by Chomsky as well as on the information processing model. It is a complex construct in which a finite group of rules enables the generation of an infinite number of grammatical sentences in the child’s native language.
2.8.2. The model of linguistic competence.
It is a system of rules enabling abstract knowledge of language structure, and refers to linguistic competence and the independent grammatical form of language. This competence model does not represent or explain the operations involved in the processing and interpreting of a heard sentence, but it does describe the grammatical knowledge that becomes a pre-requisite in these mental operations.
1) The application of abstract knowledge. Many aspects of psychological development could distort the application of abstract knowledge. For example, children’s limited work memory may usually prevent them from understanding the instructions they are given for certain tasks (Flavell, Cognitive Development 128).
2) Linguistic universals. It is recommended that children are taught that all languages have points in common called linguistic universals. This has been stressed by the hypothesis of innate representation on the specific structure of language. According to this model, the novice encounters various components of adults’ grammar, which function as a pre-grammar which the child can use to slowly uncover the grammar rules of their own language.
2.8.3. The automatic capacity to acquire language.
1) The difference between execution and competence. According to Chomsky, an important difference between execution and competence is that competence is a complex behaviour with two main components – a formal model and a model of structure of logical representation. Eg. the abstract rules aimed at generating grammatical structures are an automatic model that according to Chomsky happens through execution. This represents the psychological processes by which information is accessed and utilised in actual situations.
2) The rule of transitivity. This is very important because it allows the transference to all tasks for an effective solution. Besides transitivity, however, it is expected that the child acquires the necessary competence for their linguistic development. To establish the key points of this topic is a basic issue of psycholinguistics, meaning that a more complete knowledge of psychological processes will enable us to easily identify the variables that will allow the determination of the basic grammatical rules of language that the child is learning and in which situations they are used.
3) The psycholinguistic approach. The advantage of this approach is the provision of new and beneficial ways to consider traditional issues on cognitive development. The theory of automatic development of language is a good way to understand this development provided that exposure to the environment is accounted for. It proposes that language is an innate quality of the human being, but when a child is not exposed to language, acquisition will be much harder. An example of this is the child from Avignon, in France, who never learned to talk because the environment was not favourable.
4) The automatic model. It explains and describes how knowledge is stored in distinct cognitive archives, and how this information is accessed and used in activities and real human situations in an automatic way that is much more flexible and efficient than the best and most modern of computers (Flavell, Cognitive Development 131).
5) A multiplicity of perceptual and cognitive perspectives. A multiplicity of perceptual and cognitive perspectives is generated by differences between appearance and reality as well as the fact that thought follows certain rules, including implication rules, laws, non-contradiction or proofs amongst others. This program provides specific concepts which are proof of cognitive development in the child. As a result, any valid model must specify what a child knows and how knowledge is represented as well as the cognitive elements that interact on each level of development (Flavell, Cognitive Development 132).
6) The addition of innate procedures. A program must include both the innate procedures used by the child for the extraction, process and use of information, and how this information is stored in the child’s cognitive archives. This cognitive encounter with the environment enables us to know how knowledge is represented and organised. It also depends on selective attention and the organisation of perceptual elements in an intellectually acceptable form, allowing for the transport of the correct information for memory storage. These processes suffer considerable alterations with age and become tangible clues for cognitive development in pre-school children (Flavell, Cognitive Development 133).
2.9. Qualitative and quantitative changes that occur during cognitive development. When considering the way in which cognitive development occurs, this must be approached from two different angles – qualitative and quantitative changes.
2.9.1. Qualitative change.
The problem that arises is if successive elements in the process of cognitive development differ qualitatively or only quantitatively in one or more dimensions. The qualitative approach determines, amongst others, a sequence by stages of the model of cognitive development which is similar to the model proposed by Flavell in that the position of qualitative differences seems to achieve a positive outcome with regards to the nature of development, and it seems to offer an interesting hope to the construction of the theory in this area. The proofs presented provide a stronger and a weaker position.
The difference between the basis of inference and reasoning based on perception on the tasks of conservation is also an instance whose change is qualitative. It must be considered that qualitative differences are only formal relationships between both cognitive processes and this does not necessarily imply that there are other types of relationships between them (Flavell, Cognitive Development 138).
It is during these small ontogenic changes that qualitative changes in intellectual programs occur in pre-school children. However, deep changes occur that alternate between qualitative and quantitative, and it is in fact when we read Piagetian literature that we become aware that the processes of accommodation, assimilation and cognitive balance are mostly of the qualitative type (Flavell, Cognitive Development 139).
2.9.2. Abrupt quantitative cognitive changes.
The most significant of all cognitive changes are better described as quantitative changes in degree or quantity. Two issues appear in relation to these abrupt cognitive changes:
1) The first is in regard to the acquisitions of temporal type, especially those that are fixed to an invariable sequence for every child. The other issue is linked to the speed range with which cognitive development occurs, and prompts the question – does cognitive change occur in an abrupt lineal way, or does it happen in a more irregular, spiral-shaped way? Two different currents have been developed in an attempt to give an answer to this (Flavell, Cognitive Development 140).
Acquisitions of temporal type. The first describes a process that occurs in a segmented manner to allow the child’s cognitive development to occur as a fast proliferation of cognitive operations. The cognitive algorithm resulting from these premises consists of inference, rule and say, and it finally leads into the competence system to become available in the domain of application (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 111).
2) Speed range. There is an extended interval between cognitive competence as such and the child’s actual performance. It involves a process by which all those abilities that appear gradually and slowly, progressively acquire stability and universality. This concept is more understandable than the rigid concept of stages of cognitive development.
2.9.3. Sequential patterns of cognitive structures.
The reason by which the sequential patterns of children’s cognitive structures are said to influence the process of teaching and learning is the provision of supplies by research in this area to answer the question – How does the process of cognitive development occur in the pre-school stage? (Flavell, Cognitive Development 150).
One of the temporal aspects of cognitive development is focused on these two questions – do all or any of the cognitive acquisitions belong in the child’s mental repertoire as a constant invariable sequence? Does this process happen in ways that vary amongst different cultures? It seems that sequential variability and invariability should be perceived as a symptom of something that is much more important, namely the type of functional relationship between cognitive acquisitions made progressively by the child, which follows a logical order of events (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 120).
Pairs of cognitive acquisitions. From the ambiguity regarding automatic processes of cognitive activity and the inferences obtained by the child from his interaction with the environment, a series of pairs of cognitive acquisitions can be deduced, including – none or remote, when there is a distant relationship; substitution, when a cognitive element is used instead of another; implicative mediation, as a result of social or face to face interaction; and finally non-implicative mediation, when the actual presence of an object is not necessary for its evolution. Each of these pairs of acquisitions can be explained as follows (Flavell, Cognitive Development 152):
1) None or remote. This cognitive pair identifies itself with the acquisitions of cognitive type whose sequence can be strictly invariable. The concept of number and quantity conservation describes a circular relationship, it returns to the origin. As such, it infers a functional relationship between what a child learns and what is applied to the acquisition of new and diverse notions.
2) Substitution. It occurs when an aspect can be changed for another despite being formally unrelated. However, they are applied to the same domain and this does not mean that one includes the other. It is rather an extension or an elaboration, which does not disappear from the cognitive repertoire and that maintains its potential to substitute the other aspect under conditions such as fatigue, distraction or regression. This does not mean, though, that a more complex concept can substitute a simple one, but that in children’s cognitive archives these concepts of different levels of depth coexist in a latent or suppressed state (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 125).
3) Implicative mediation. It plays a much more constructive role than non-implicative mediation. Firstly, it develops earlier and requires practise, and the practise of one always implies the practise of the other, as they are a sub-set by definition and the child could very well be capable of assuming a part of the sub-set but not the other. In fact, however, if a child acquires one part of the conceptual pair, they will necessarily also acquire the other part because this component is necessary for the understanding of the pair (Flavell, Cognitive Development 151).
4) Non-implicative mediation. An object can mediate the cognitive acquisition of another. However, a defined role for each of these objects cannot be confirmed. It has been shown that an object can be a constructive force in the process of cognitive evolution, and as an example of this it has been suggested by Piaget that the ability to coordinate weight and width plays a key role for the acquisition of the mental operation needed for the conservation of liquid volume. This is a plausible hypothesis, because it can be shown that certain cognitive abilities can serve as a bridge for the acquisition of a concept (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 128).
It can be deduced that there are alternative paths of cognitive and emotional development, because not all children acquire the same concepts and cognitive skills in the same way. This great flexibility is strongly related to the stage of proliferation of neuronal connections and the slow neuronal pruning of later years. Besides, one of the adaptive characteristics of our species is to progressively form concepts from the experiences to which we are exposed, leading to what is known as ontogenic variability (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 132).
In summary, in this section cognitive development has been discussed from a functional point of view, as well as the way in which different pairs of cognitive acquisitions occur from the simplest to the most complex: substitution, implicative mediation, non-implicative mediation. These somehow make clear how children in pre-school age acquire and organise concepts in their cognitive archives (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 133).
1) Phases of cognitive development. On the first phase, children make many mistakes and their thought is mainly pre-operational. It continues to be pre-operational through the second phase, but this is characterised by enhanced capability for mental operations and fewer mistakes, allowing for oscillations and inconsistencies. On the third phase a higher level of consistency is made apparent, and there are important equivalences in the factors involved in cognitive development in the form of patterns. Finally, the fourth phase shows success in the resolution of cognitive problems and the disappearance of inconsistencies. This theoretical model of parameters and stages helps to provide a close perspective on Piaget’s experimental approach. It also mentions the danger of providing students with concepts that are theoretically disconnected, because these contribute little in the improvement of mental operations throughout cognitive development.
2) Funcional implications of intelligence. An attempt to make various aspects described by Piaget’s theory has been the object of many debates and discussions – how does the change in cognitive mechanisms occur to allow the child to progress through different developmental stages? Besides, one of the main topics of recent research has been to determine the mechanisms of cognitive change that can be generalised to pre-school children. Piaget’s research has clearly contributed very important answers on children’s cognitive structure, but recent neo-Piagetian studies have also made important contributions which complement his postulates. There are three key points under examination:
1) automatic competence and its distinction by itself;
2) the concept of stage of development and its structural characteristics;
3) the character of the transition and the phases of stabilisation that occur mediated by cognitive structures throughout the development process (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 170).
3) The third conclusion is linked to the training effect, which should be able to facilitate the access to specific mental operations, enabling a better ability for abstraction and the acquisition of relevant information. Teachers must currently acknowledge that many of their students could be in a level of transition, while acquiring the necessary mental operations, and that it is through training that the resistance involved in the change to the next cognitive stage eventually disappears. The teacher should also keep in mind that a given concept learned loses significance when the students cannot transfer it to other areas of apply to their life that which they are learning. This knowledge or content is certainly bound to disappear with time (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 171).
4) Structural analysis of a concept’s learning domain. It is interesting to point out that it is the behaviourists who somehow have managed to detect part of the essence of cognitive development. Psychologies such as Skinner and his followers believed that the readiness of a child to learn can be reduced to a sequence of pre-requisites for a concept to be assimilated and later on transferred. To accept this is to ignore the issue of horizontal transfer and the set of relationships between cognitive structures that become coordinated at this level. Besides, questions arise not only for when is the best moment for a child to begin learning in terms of traditional-style education, but also for what should the curriculum contain to enable the child to transfer knowledge so that they do not get stuck in a purely theoretical area. The existence of horizontal transfer has been largely ignored by psychologists in Skinner’s school (Flavell, Cognitive Development 201).
5) Piaget’s influence on education plays a key role on teacher training and on particular experiences towards children’s cognitive and emotional development. This can be understood as a process in four phases in which the mechanisms of transition and stabilisation intervene on the pre-operational and operational stages. This formula suggests the presence of very different effects in the learning of what is expected, depending on which stage a child is. Most of Piaget’s research shows that children on the pre-operational stage show very little evidence of acquisition of specific mental operations. Errors made by children under five years of age are due in part to lack of experience and in part to their inability to inhibit intruding environmental stimuli that interfere with their answer. Another contributing factor is their lack of skills in the use of work memory, which recent discoveries on children’s cognitive behaviour have shown to be essential.
6) Tests aimed at establishing the level of relationship between execution and learning. Despite research efforts aimed at proving Piagetian hypotheses, there is a number of inconsistencies, one of them being the fact that young people who should in principle already be able to perform mental operations in the formal stage and to understand abstract thought, are still anchored on prior levels or show different levels of progress in different areas. For this reason, tests are often not sufficient to provide answers to these contradictions with regards to the nature of learning (Flavell, Cognitive Development 205).
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Learning the art of teaching how to think
It is possible to teach how to think
3. MICRO-CURRICULAR DESIGN
This research project found its grounds on the revision of recent studies on cognitive development, which demonstrate that up to three years of age children develop 80% of their cognitive capacity. Other studies on cognition show that by the age of ten children have formed all neuronal connections that will be useful for the rest of their life. Therefore, there is ample theoretical evidence on child intelligence being formed and structured dialectically (José A. Amaz, La Planeación Curricular 1, 30).
This research project contributes to solve the question – how does pre-school cognitive development occur? In agreement with Flavell, neuroscience states that, in order to work on abstraction, it is necessary to begin before the age of five, because at fifteen it is too late. According to the reprocessing of Piagetian theories, adult thought has many of the characteristics present in children’s cognitive processes. However, their older age grants them broad experience as well as great memory ability which allows them to efficiently configure their cognitive archives (Jorge Preciado C. and Isabel Albers A., Teoría y Técnica del Currículo 67).
Furthermore, through this curricular design I wish to lay down a series of practical exercises aimed at training the mind of pre-school children, in order to develop thought skills instead of memorising, for in this stage they need to be helped to inhibit unnecessary information which would block learning (Flavell, Cognitive Development 45).
The contribution of this micro-curricular design lies on the elaboration of lesson plans based on the ideas proposed by Piaget and mainly by Flavell, within the context of pre-school children cognitive development. As such, it will use lessons on childhood learning acquired in the past two chapters through the theoretical comparison between Piaget and Flavell. The sequence in which the process of teaching and learning is presented, from the teacher’s explanation through to guided practise, independent practise and finally transfer has been taken from Piaget. His are also the general guidelines on micro-curricular planning regarding the estimated time taken for the achievement of planning and the determination of the age group for which the design was made.
Finally, he contributes the first aim of the curricular plan regarding the learning of primary colours and the types of learning materials that are needed for each activity. The processes of mental operations that contribute to the capacity for self-assessment of mental and emotional activity, that is, the exercise of metacognition – the ability to think about one’s own thoughts and emotions – have been borrowed from Flavell. Overall, the presented proposal is considered Flavellian because of the inclusion of a section dedicated to self-assessment by criteria. The plan’s second aim agrees with step-wise learning of mental operations. It must be stressed that the knowledge that specific cognitive skills are essential for learning certain mental operations aids teachers to help with long-term learning of these cognitive skills.
Flavell’s is also the concept of adding a variety and multiplicity of learning experiences for a specific mental operation – for example visiting the market, the zoo, the bakery, also with specific material. It is acknowledged that this proposal of micro-curricular design might be too ambitious for given school environments where material, human and time resources may be scarce and make its development difficult. Far from the pretence to be a straightjacket for the teacher, this design aims at introducing creative and different ideas as to how learning of mental operations and emotional competences can be achieved in the early years of life.
3.1. Theoretical foundations of the micro-curricular proposal.
The theoretical foundations are centred on two works by Piaget and two works by Flavell. Firstly, Piaget’s books “Intelligence and Affectivity” and “Psychology and Epistemology” have contributed the theoretical assumptions used for the micro-curricular design. Of relevance are also his many ideas, theoretical postulates and his strong influence on the Ecuadorian educational system with regards to – how children think?, and how does their cognitive and emotional development occur? The current educational system was conceived as a series of levels and originates from the theoretical bases of cognitive development by stages. It is currently used for the pedagogical practice of most of Ecuador’s educational institutions. The two works by Flavell’s analysed here are “Cognitive Development: Children” and “Knowledge about Mind”. They discuss the idea that children can have cognitive and emotional abilities similar to those of adults, and these appear in a complex manner with very relevant innate foundations.
An important part of the theoretical foundations lie on the development of mental operations such as – identification, comparison, ordination, classification, analysis and synthesis (M. Victoria Peralta Espinosa, Currículos Educacionales en América Latina 23).
The elaboration of this proposal, therefore, uses cognitivist theories to enable children to learn and develop their thought skills, promoting more significant and lasting learning, of greater application to decision making and to problem solving within the context of daily interaction with the environment (Ángel Díaz Barriga, Ensayos sobre la Problemática Curricular 33).
This will also help children to strengthen their emotional abilities, as learning is strengthened when the human being is considered as a whole, comprising emotional, cognitive and social aspects. The proposed curriculum reflects a personal inclination to associate attitude with cognitive aspects as well as procedural with attitude aspects. This objective is achieved with the help of a methodological procedure.
There is consensus on the importance of the early years of life for the development of emotional skills, which are the pillars of a happy attitude towards life and a triumphant spirit, involving the acceptance of frustration and a genuine enthusiasm devoid of anxiety, which puts off pleasure with the aim of reaching higher targets and self-achievement. Faced with the crisis of a selfish and competitive society, educating children with love, tolerance, solidarity, patience and resilience is an excellent way to contribute to a farer society and sowing the seeds of peace for a future shaped by greater equality. Objectives
1. To apply to the micro-design the interpretation of the cognitive development process of Piaget and Flavell for pre-school children. 2. To introduce activities which promote mental operations and values such as tolerance, solidarity, ethics and respect. 3. To integrate in the curricular design the educational guidelines resulting from the theoretical comparison between Piaget and Flavell.
3.2. Expected results.
1. Children who are capable of mental operations such as identification, comparison, ordination, classification analysis and synthesis.
2. Teachers who are more aware of the steps needed to promote the development of mental operations.
3. Children who are capable of metacognition in their mental and emotional processes.
4. An increase in the level of thought and emotional development in those children to whom this micro-curricular design is applied.
5. Teachers who are more motivated and flexible in the application of diverse approaches to emotional and cognitive development.
3.3. Discussion of the methodological process.
Each curricular plan is developed following four different stages, configuring the act of teaching and learning:
1. Modelling. The teacher begins by approaching the topic, displaying a diversity of ways and experiences for a given content, process or attitude.
2. Guided practice. It enables the development of the child’s skills and thought and emotional abilities with the teacher’s help and guidance.
3. Independent practice. At this moment in teaching and learning, the student applies the acquired knowledge independently without the teacher’s help.
4. Transfer. At this stage the knowledge acquired is applied to topics in everyday life and the child is allowed to solve problems on their own. It is now that the learning acquires significance.
First of all, the methodological phases described above respond to the process of cognitive development proposed by Flavell, who does not support a lineal and stage-like development. They also show a link to the origins of thought according to Flavell, because they make symbolic play possible, in order to facilitate reasoning and emotional cognitive development. This plan offers a variety of activities with a prominent role of play as well as logics and the pedagogical bases of cognitive mechanisms for long-term learning. Rather than stages of cognitive development, Flavell proposes a dialectic-like development with irregular appearance, formed by five stages which are ways in which the mind shows increasing complexity in its way of understanding the world. This methodology based on metacognition follows the theoretical approach of Flavell, allowing children to think about their own thoughts and to control their emotions.
The contents selected respond to Flavell’s theoretical conception of irregular cognitive development. The conceptual content will firstly be developed before covering the procedural content, to be able to accomplish the key objective to develop thought through emotions, happiness, creativity and curiosity in the early years of life.
3.3.1. Conceptual content – primary colours.
This topic will enable the contribution of creative thought with the achievement of new colour schemes. This is a necessary preparation for the achievement of more complex metacognitive processes with abstract topics in children of pre-school age, driven by affectivity to continue with the teaching and learning process of mental operations. I will focus later on the teaching of mental operations that when developed and acquired without specific content will provide an invaluable cognitive ability with potential application during the school years and later life. These cognitive operations are:
a. Identification. It is the most elementary thought process and forms a basis for the others. It enables the perception of characteristics of an object or event through the senses.
b. Comparison. It is the process that enables the establishment of similarities and differences between objects, situations and people.
c. Classification. Ordination is a thought process aimed at organising the elements in a group in accordance with a previously established criterion.
d. Comparison. It is the process that enables the separation of a set of objects into groups according to a selected property.
e. Analysis. It is the thought process aimed at breaking the whole down into parts, following an established criterion.
f. Synthesis. It is the process that enables the integration of the parts in order to put together a significant whole.
Synthesis and analysis are mutually complementary. The importance of these mental operations lies on the fact that they form the grounds for other, more complex, ones in later years. Even though the proposed methodology makes it possible to teach pre-school children, a key aspect is to give them the opportunities they need until cognitive abilities are transferred to their daily life and become significant for their life. This curricular plan answers to qualitative cognitive changes, those that occur in early life years, when children show evidence of complex thought but lack the experience and necessary information to give more logical and correct answers to given problems.
According to Flavell, the teaching the notion of primary colours and six mental operations combined with an ethical value will carry with it an additional contribution to an integral teaching and learning process, which emphasises work memory, a memory that is basic for thought learning. This plan will, therefore, allow the acquisition of mental operations that will be useful throughout life no matter what type of learning is done in later years.
Proposal summary and conclusions
The now finished theoretical comparison between Piaget and Flavell applied to the micro-curricular design has provided the necessary data to explain cognitive and emotional development in pre-school children, and highlighted the importance of benefitting from this cognitive phase, which is cognitive and neurally more flexible and multi-potential (M. Victoria Peralta Espinosa and Gaby Fumijoto Gómez, La Atención Integral de la Primera Infancia en América Latina: Ejes Centrales y Los Desafíos para el Siglo XXI #14).
I have reached the conclusion that introducing a new curricular theoretical model does not happen overnight, because the Piagetian theory, which explains cognitive development mechanisms acquired lineally, highlights what each child can do given the stage of intelligence development they are in.
My opinion is that this proposal shows gaps, because it cannot explain why young people or adults, who should be in the last stages of cognitive development, still remain in earlier intellectual and emotional growth stages. I also consider, on the other side, that Piaget’s biological conception of intelligence marked by an understanding of cognitive development mechanisms as the practical means that the individual employs for aim achievement is a weakness. Assimilation and accommodation, which feature amongst the most important mechanisms, allow the cognitive adaptation needed to assimilate newly acquired learning, thus resulting in balance. Other studies, however, show that these aspects do not result exclusively from biological development. Therefore, according to Piaget, stages appear in a regular, marked, lineal manner.
This theory assumes that children, through their own evolutionary, biological and genetic processes, will be able to acquire a range of superior cognitive abilities simply with time. This would be due to the consideration of cognitive development as something innate and genetically predetermined, which appears gradually and naturally even without adult, environmental or social interference. This micro-curricular design arises from a partial disagreement with Piaget’s approach, and has been created in accordance with Flavell’s theoretical conception, which stresses that there are abilities or cognitive stages that form the bases of later stages, as it was widely discussed in chapter 2.
One of the greatest difficulties and advantages of Flavell’s approach is that, contrary to Piaget, he does not split development into age brackets. This makes it difficult to plan the mental operations learning process, and for this reason, with the aim of achieving an appropriate plan, Piaget’s theory has been used. This is despite the fact that Flavell’s approach contributes to the explanation that cognitive development is a spiral-shaped process. This micro-curricular design proposal applies the following elements proposed by Flavell as mechanisms of cognitive development – automatisation, to increase efficacy with practise; coding, to focus on the relevant aspects of a problem; and strategy building, the recreation of new problem solving strategies. Meantime, care is given to important values for the integral development of children in pre-school age which will be of great usefulness through life such as – tolerance, respect, solidarity, patience or motivation. The successful development of these emotional skills prepares children for a society in constant change.
Flavell interprets, however, rather than stages of cognitive development, a dialectic development that occurs irregularly and is formed by five stages or ways in which the mind becomes progressively more complex. In conclusion, Piaget’s cognitive development stages are successive and fragmented, and are greatly affected by biological processes. Flavell, on the other side, discards the existence of stages following a lineal order and describes instead abilities or cognitive and emotional states that provide a basis for later development. One of the greater difficulties and advantages of this approach is that, unlike for Piaget, it is not split into age brackets. This hinders the understanding of the sequence in which given abilities appear, but instead it contributes to the theoretical definition of cognitive development as a spiral-shaped process.
1. Amaz, José A. “La Planeación Curricular”. Editorial Trillas. Marzo, 2000.
2. Bravo Jáuregui Luis (Compilador).
“Lecturas de Educación y Currículo”. Editorial Biósfera. Segunda Edición. Caracas, Venezuela, 1991.
3. Díaz Barriga, Ángel. “Ensayos sobre la Problemática curricular”. Editorial Trillas. Abril, 1999.
4. Fullat, Octavi. “Política de la educación” Politeya Paideia, Ediciones CEAC, Barcelona, España, 1994.
5. Peralta Espinosa, M. Victoria. “Currículos educacionales en América Latina”. Su pertinencia cultural. Editorial Andrés Bello. Santiago de Chile, 1996.
6. Peralta Espinosa, M. Victoria y Fujimoto Gómez, Gaby. “La Atención Integral de la Primera Infancia en América Latina: Ejes Centrales y los Desafíos para el Siglo XXI. Organización de los Estados Americanos (O.E.A.).
Santiago de Chile, 1998.
7. Posner, George J. “Análisis de Currículo”. Segunda Edición. Mc Graw Hill. 1998.
8. Preciado C., Jorge y Albers A., Isabel. “Teoría y técnica del currículo”. Vadell Hermnaos Editores. Venezuela, reimpresión 1990.
Cultivating childhood intelligence
Lesson plans for thought development
PARADIGM: COGNITIVE. SOURCES: PIAGET and FLAVELL.
FOR: pre-school children. ESTIMATED DURATION: one week.
20 hours for each mental operation and the notion of primary colours.
AIM 1: for students to learn the notion of primary colours.
AIM2: for students to acquire the ability to identify, compare, arrange in order, classify, analyse and synthesise, while at the same time acquiring the values of solidarity, respect, order, cooperation, tolerance, creativity, etc.
This micro-curricular design is in agreement with the “Volemos Alto” curriculum reference from the Ministry for pre-school education, which supports cognitive learning mediated by emotions, creativity and children spontaneity, and considers the large brain plasticity of this age to promote significant learning. With this design I wish to establish practical activities aimed at training the pre-school children’s mind in order to develop thought skills instead of memorising. It is important in this stage to help children to inhibit unnecessary sensorial information that may block learning. The two fundamental pillars of this micro-curricular plan are the values and mental operations that will help children to develop their thought and adapt to the environment. As such, this proposal considers the human being as a whole, and therefore, the proposed activities promote attitudinal, cognitive and conceptual aspects.
It is commonly agreed that the early years of life are key for the development of emotional abilities, because they occur at a time of mid-brain development, where important areas for learning and emotion control are localised. The selection of primary colour as content responds to their ease of use, which will contribute to creative thought when new tones and hues are achieved, allowing for the appearance of the most complex meta-cognitive processes – that is, thinking of one’s own thoughts – in that age group. As it was explained beforehand in the guide of application, a sequential methodology in four phases including modelling, guided practice, independent practice and transfer, is followed. My conviction that the leading element in learning is affectivity has motivated me to include with each phase of the methodological process a specific value that can be developed concurrently as determined by meta-cognition (Flavell, Cognitive Development 45).
1. DEPENDENT PRACTICE
* Students will, through Cooperative Learning (in groups), create a mosaic made of mixed colours. The topic is nature. They will do this without the teacher’s help (group work stresses the value of cooperation).
* Manual activities, students place hands and feet on sheets of paper to be displayed on an artistic mural (value of organisation).
* Children will bring from home two items they own in a primary colour. They are to be shown in the class and all children can play with the items everyone brought (value of solidarity and belonging).
* On a country trip, children will state landscape colours as they travel on school bus. Eg lawns, sky, flowers or earth (value of concentration).
Class on the bus
Students will independently make their own colour mixtures and will later share results. This will enable meta-cognition and self-assessment, identifying their work’s positive, negative and interesting aspects.
The most elementary thought process and foundation of all others. It enables sensory perception of the characteristics of objects and events.
* Thinking about an objective.
* Choosing which aspects to identify.
* Stating their characteristics.
* Expressing this identification.
* Drawing conclusions.
* Revising the logic of the whole identification process.
* Acknowledging different identification criteria (according to tone and hue) to appreciate the characteristics to be identified (value of patience).
* Certain students may use the blackboard to join the teacher in the identification according to colour of different types of seeds placed on a central table (value of respect).
* Elaborating, with the teacher’s help, a poster on the process needed to achieve different colour mixes. * Identifying different types of educational toys available in the classroom according to colour (value of respect).
Presenting in class on the identification, according to colour, of some pieces of fruit that are hidden in the classroom.
* Elaborating different classifications of utensils available in the classroom according to colour
(value of creativity).
Supervising the application of the identification process to other areas (value of responsibility).
* Displaying on a table different types of sweets to be identified by students according to colour.
Teaching materials (blackboard, pens, eraser, etc.)
Students will identify different types of leaves that will be assessed according to: * A specific aspect they refer to.
* The quality of identification.
* Logic and coherence.
They will finally glue them to bond paper sheets according to colour and carry out self-assessment as a final identification activity.
Picked at random, students will perform individual assessment of the identifications they have made in the lesson and at the end of the week assessment will be done as a group.
Comparing: this process allows the assignment of similarities and differences between objects, situations or events. * Establishing the topic to be compared.
* Observing the object, situation or event.
* Identifying similarities.
* Identifying differences.
* Expressing the comparison obtained from the activity.
* Draw conclusions.
* Revise the whole comparison process meta-cognitively.
* Observing comparisons made by the teacher on differently coloured pebbles (value of motivation and attention).
* Watching footage from the show Animal Planet where the comparison between two fish of the same species but different colour is made (value of concentration).
* In groups, with the help of bond paper sheets, students will compare photos of domestic dogs of different colours, with the teacher’s guidance (value of order).
* A visit to the market with the teacher, comparing fruit and vegetables with their different colours (value of respect).
* In groups, students will compare two objects of different colours (value of cooperation).
* Watching a video where the three states of water are shown, with their own hues and colours, and comparing them.
A visit to the zoo, comparing two types of snakes of different colours (value of order).
Students will present a portfolio containing their daily comparison work with different themes and colours, to be assessed by the teacher. Problem based learning (PBL) assessment
Students will compare two types of jigsaw puzzles step by step. Armed with primary colours, they will present their final reflection in the teacher’s presence.
This is a thought process that enables the organisation of elements in a set according to a previously established criterion.
* Observing every element in the sequence.
* Identifying the characteristic that defines the change.
* Identifying the type of progressively growing sequence.
* Expressing the type of order extracted from the activity.
* Drawing conclusions.
* Performing meta-cognition regarding the logic of order.
* The teacher will describe how to order wooden cubes in different colours (value of caution).
*The teacher will show how to order straws according to colour hues (value of order).
* In groups, with the teacher’s guidance, ordering coloured cards step by step (value of respect).
* Ordering small cardboard boxes painted in different hues of primary colours (value of concentration).
* In groups, students will order marbles by their colour.
* Individually, students will order plastic cups by their colour (value of independence).
* At home, students will order their shoes according to their colour (value of organisation).
* At school, students will order their notebooks according to the colour of their covers (value of planning).
Sheets of paper
– Clarity and planning of the order.
– Logical structure of order according to an established criterion. – Validity and coherence of the order.
– Revision of the order.
– Correct construction of an order.
The teacher will verify if students are able to order objects in classroom activities as well as in independent practice.
This process consists in splitting into groups a set of objects in accordance to a specific aspect.
* Observing the objects to be classified.
* Identifying similarities and differences between them.
* Identifying the aspects corresponding to their similarities and differences. * Identifying the classes for each category.
* Expressing the classification.
* Drawing conclusions.
* Revising the logic of the entire process.
* To acknowledge different classification criteria that account for differences and similarities between jams and their colours (value of concentration).
* Some children will step to the front of the class and together with the teacher will classify different colour counters (value of respect).
* Making objects of choice with coloured play dough and moulds provided by the teacher (value of creativity).
* Classifying different types of toys according to colour (value or organisation).
* Preparing a presentation on the classification of fruit colours (value of concentration).
* Classifying different utensils present in the classroom according to colour (value of order).
* Supervising the application of the classification process to other areas (value of responsibility).
* Organising clothes for students to classify them by colour (value of beauty).
Jams of different flavours
Paint, crayons, colour pencils, colour pens, etc.
Photos of people
Students will classify different objects and compile the work. Assessment will consider: Following the rule
Quality of writing
Logic and coherence
The compiled work will be given back to them for editing with the teacher’s help. They will have a book on different types of classification. Process assessment:
Students picked at random sill perform individual assessment of the classification books and this will be done in groups at the end of the week.
It is the thought process that enables the disassembly of a whole into its parts, following an established criterion.
* Determining the analysis criterion.
* Identifying the elements that form the whole.
* Determining its basic characteristics.
* Analysis expression.
* Drawing conclusions.
* Revising the entire analysis process.
* Observing different analysis criteria to analyse dry leaves according to colour.
* Some students will step in front of the class and will join the teacher on the analysis of different soft drink colours (value of respect).
* Analysis different pebble colours with the teacher’s help (value of cooperation).
* Performing the analysis of colours in pictures that show different people’s hair colour, as shown by the teacher (value of attention).
* In a toy house, analyse which are the main colours of each room (living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, etc.)
* Children will be given sheets of paper in different colours for analysis of their favourite hues (value of respect for others).
* Supervising the use of the process of colour analysis in other areas (value of creativity).
* Analysing their lunch according to food colour (value of order).
Teaching materials (blackboard, pens, eraser, etc.)
Students will analyse different objects by their colour and assessment will consider: Following a rule
Logic and coherence
Socialisation with classmates. Analysis and conclusions will enhance thought development. Process assessment:
Picked at random, students will individually assess their compiled analyses at the end of the week. The best ones will contribute to a wall journal to be displayed together with triptychs of their activities.
Back to Contents.
1. Maclure Stuart and Davies Peter. Aprender a pensar, pensar en aprender, Editorial Gedisa
2. Módulo de la Dra. Mónica Burbano, Microdiseño Curricular.
4. INTERNET: http://educacion.idoneos.com/index.php/364006 . Acceso, 23 junio 2009
5. INTERNET: http://iteso.mx/~carlosc/pagina/documentos/innova_normal/unidida5.htm Access, 23 June 2009 6. INTERNET: http://:www.upf.edu/biomed/_gavi/aneca.pdf+tipos+de+evaluacion+a+los+estudiantes Access, 24 June 2009
The first chapter of this book after the analysis of Piaget and Flavell’s theoretical proposals concerning four conceptual categories – mechanisms of cognitive development, stages of cognitive development, origins of thought and cognitive strategies – I discovered that each author explains the stages of cognitive development in a different way. For Piaget, the transition between stages is sharp. He considers that children’s understanding is limited by the stage of intellectual development they are in and that children cannot be taught to think and act at higher stages until they have gone through lower ones. Flavell considers that the transition between phases occurs slowly and this is founded on discoveries that have challenged the Piaget’s notion of lineal stages.
Cognitive development cannot be categorised in developmental stages because it is more suited to continuity and to qualitative changes, rather than a lineal process that occurs gradually under the influence of genetics. Cognitive development does not properly suit a series of stages that are built up upon each other. Instead, it resembles a spiral because biological age does not necessarily determine an individual’s ability to execute cognitive operations. I found two main difficulties caused by Piaget’s theory. The first consists in the formulation of ideas in his theory. He often states them in vague or general ways, and they can sometimes not even be checked experimentally. Even when they can be checked, data do not always verify the theoretical findings. Besides, Piaget tends to focus on things children cannot do in specific stages of development.
I have reached the conclusion in the second chapter that introducing a new theoretical model does not happen overnight, because Piaget’s theory underlines the mechanisms of cognitive development, supports their lineal acquisition and highlights what every child can do according to their developmental stage. In my opinion, this proposal shows gaps as it cannot explain why young people or adults who should be on the later stages of cognitive development remain in lower phases of intellectual and emotional growth. For Flavell, cognitive development is driven by phases. As such, the proposed educational guidelines aim at empowering thought development. For this reason, programs such as Philosophy for Children, Bono’s lateral and creative thought and psycholinguistics have been considered, because they apply basic principles arising from Flavell’s cognitive development theory such as the relevance of work memory, respecting learning rythms, creativity and the importance of research at the pre-school level.
Piaget proposes well defined cognitive development stages and these are followed by educational guidelines based on topics such as the curriculum, class ecology, didactic materials, age-driven cognitive abilities and the important role of that the individual’s biological rhythms have to achieve learning. In other words, Flavell proposes phases of cognitive development characterised by cognitive moments that are not unmovable and are susceptible to revert in the absence of continued practice and effort to achieve the necessary cognitive jumps. Meanwhile, for Piaget there are stages of cognitive development with well-defined phases which follow a series of cognitive abilities marked by age. I have discovered three key issues to keep in mind for the educational guidelines. They are as follows:
1) Automatic cognitive competence, which is achieved with constant practise.
2) The concept of developmental stage and its structural characteristics.
3) The transitive character of stabilising phases through development-driven cognitive structures.
The importance of these three aspects resides on the fact that they influence educational practises with regards to learning quality. Considering the current research hypothesis, the type of approach to cognitive development that we have will affect the focus of our educational practise in the classroom with our students. A more flexible and dialectic approach may, therefore, facilitate teaching and learning processes contextualised to the cognitive reality of pre-school children. The training effect facilitates the access and acquisition of mental operations such as identification, comparison, analysis or synthesis. As such, training may help overcome the resistance to move from a cognitive phase to the next (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 165).
I have asked myself during this research – When would it be best for a child to begin traditional and formal education? I am also curious to know – What should be comprised in the curriculum for a child to go beyond theoretical knowledge and achieve its transfer? The conclusions obtained from the theoretical comparison between Piaget and Flavell have helped me elaborate recommendations to improve the teaching and learning process, which I have applied to a proposal of micro-curricular design that follows all recommendations contained in the “Volemos Alto” curricular plan for pre-school education. The core idea of this plan is to support emotions and ethical values. Piaget’s understanding of intelligence restricts thought development because the growth and specialisation of intelligence is driven not just by genetic factors, but continues to be shaped by social and cultural factors that greatly determine the individual’s academic achievements. This micro-curricular design has been elaborated as an alternative to this biological approach to thought development.
It, however, utilises some key aspects of Piaget’s theory such as the sequence of learning and curriculum planning, as well as the use of specific teaching materials. I benefitted also from Flavell’s theoretical contributions on the importance of work memory, the need to restrict unnecessary knowledge and the spiral conception of intelligence, which is able to develop and strengthen with the help of multiple activities and experiences. In conclusion, the proposed micro-curricular design uses Flavell’s idea that cognitive development mechanisms are related to the processes of automation (to improve efficacy with practice), codification (to focus on a problem’s relevant aspects), generalisation (to use inductive reasoning to obtain generalisations) and strategy building (the creation of new problem solving strategies).
Meanwhile, this proposal encourages key values for the integral development of pre-school children which they will greatly benefit from in later life such as love, self-esteem, tolerance, respect, solidarity, patience or motivation. One of the key conclusions to which I have arrived upon finishing this research is in regards to Flavell’s conception of stages of intellectual development. He proposes their contribution to the theoretical explanation that cognitive development is a spiral-shaped process, which aids with the understanding that an important foundation to improve educational practices is the creation of programs and curricular plans that help the student be conscious of their own advances, capable of self-assessment, able to advance independently or in some cases with the help of a teacher, the parents, the bosses, and able to polish their skills.
This is a way to shape individuals while considering all their potentials as humans and most of all as beings who are responsible for their abilities, their execution and overall of their own destiny. It encourages being one’s own, not surrendering control of one’s life to country, church, family or government but becoming the protagonist of one’s life, preparing for uncertainty, sympathy for other human beings and acceptance of human complexity. These aspects will contribute to self-achievement and integral balance.
ONE OF THE AIMS OF EDUCATION IS TO REPLACE A BLANK MIND WITH A CREATIVE MIND. The author
This section introduces a synthesis of the theory of mind that matches meta-cognition, followed by synoptic tables of key mental operations and their techniques of activation, assessment question, teaching strategy, and proposed activity sheets for the reinforcement of development of mental operations – identification, order, classification, comparison, analysis and synthesis – as presented in the micro-curricular design. These activity sheets are aimed at supplementing the teaching and learning process should the teacher require the diversification and personalisation of their class plan with specific students.
The theory of mind
It is the ability of children to anticipate and predict people’s behaviour. They use it to build their own theory of mind and create a kind of script that they use to understand their environment. Cognitive psychologists think that the theory of mind is one of human cognitive development’s most important aspects. They have proposed biological and experience-driven causes for the theory of mind, some of which are universal and others specific according to culture (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 205).
Human children clearly show great curiosity and observation ability to define the characteristics of their own thought (meta-cognition).
At age three, children possess cognitive connections about their own thought. Pre-school children understand that they and other people have internal experiences and that there are external connections to objects and events.
Later, with the help of mental representations, they understand that a given object or event may cause different mental representations. People activate and at the same time build representations about reality, which are mediated by emotions and by the person’s own identity, which motivates their behaviour. An issue in cognitive development is how these early competences are later linked into forms of cognitive understanding. Pre-school children’s theory of mind often provides clues for the understanding of how the mental bases for the development of socialisation are set. This is how young children get through amongst their peers, parents, siblings, strangers, etc. (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 207).
The social world which surrounds us becomes somehow predictable thanks to cognitive development, which allows for the making of inferences and the creation of concepts, opinions, prejudices, beliefs, impressions, ironies, sarcasms, illusions or interpretations.
Children even know that they can have false beliefs and therefore be wrong. A flower in a vase that turns out to be plastic and a toy that one remembers to have left somewhere but is not there are examples of this (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 209).
Parents also often teach children false beliefs, like when they think that is not time to go to sleep but in reality it is. Pretend play is another of those universal experiences, and it is very useful and important because it allows children to learn to tell the difference between what really is and what seems to be. For this reason, it is deduced that if the most basic cognitive experiences are universal, then the child’s cognitive development is also, somehow, standardised and universal. Some studies have discovered that even two and a half year old children are able to make inferences regarding mental states, because while playing they are able to endow their toys and dolls with mental states such as emotions, wishes, feelings and sensations (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive development 210).
Another key issue is the relationship between theory of mind and social behaviour, and how being more conscious of false beliefs allows the individuals to communicate more efficiently. Therefore, a basic knowledge is essential to improve communication, and this is the case in people of different cultures, who by lack of knowledge can even succumb to intolerance (Flavell, Studies in Cognitive Development 212).
In conclusion, there are many theories with dissonant research and hypotheses on the theory of mind, but there are also recent theories such as meta-cognition which have been used and applied to this micro-curricular design and that agree and strengthen the ideas of the theory of mind.
TECHNIQUES FOR THE ACTIVATION OF MENTAL OPERATIONS
The following table provides a summary for teachers to know which technique can be used in the teaching and learning process to encourage a specific mental operation. MENTAL OPERATION
Observe – underline, add
Sort, separate, group
Search and find details
Join parts, construct
STRATEGIES FOR THE TEACHING AND DEVELOPMENT OF MENTAL OPERATIONS
The following table provides teaching strategies for the specific mental operation to promote.
Mental operation to develop
Identification-coding-projection of virtual relationships
Distinguishing, mental representation-comparison-classification
FORMS OF ASSESSMENT AND THOUGHT DEVELOPMENT
Various assessment types, together with the thought process that is activated, are shown as follows.
Multiple selection-crossword-filling in
Analysis and synthesis-comparison-divergent thought
Compare the two dragonflies and socialise the answer.
(value of concentration)
Meta-cognitive activity – Identify the differences
and similarities between drawings.
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if great difficulty is detected at making comparisons is detected in the modelling process.
Identify the key elements of this cup.
(value of observation)
What types of emotions and feelings is the cup projecting?
(theory of mind)
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if difficulty with identification is detected in the teaching and learning process.
Compare the two pigs and socialise the answer.
(value of concentration)
Which of the pigs does the child identify with and why?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if great difficulty in comparison making is
detected in the modelling process.
Analyse the animal’s features and colour its parts using primary colours. (value of creativity)
Which parts is Hello Kitty missing?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if difficulty in the mental operation of analysis is detected.
Cut the shapes, put them together and give an answer synthesising what the joined shapes create. (value of concentration)
Why must we take care of plants?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if difficulty in the mental operation of synthesis is detected.
Analyse the features of this illustration and colour in
their clothes using primary colours
(value of creativity)
What emotions are the animals showing?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if difficulty in the mental operation of analysis is detected.
Compare the two boats and socialise the answer.
(value of socialisation)
What means of transportation do you know?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if problems in comparison making are detected in the learning process.
Cut the shapes, put them together and synthesise what the joined shapes create. (value of sorting)
Why are scissors, knifes and blades dangerous?
Suggestion to the teacher
Use this supporting activity if difficulty is found in the mental operation of synthesis.
FIELD WORK DISCUSSION AND PRESENTATION OF DATA AND STATISTICS
Case study – the Child Development Centre Santa Ana del Infa. This section reviews the data and statistics obtained after the application of a number of research techniques at the Child Development Centre Santa Ana del Infa. These techniques were previously adapted to the Centre’s context, a public institution with children of a modest economical and social status, many of which do not live with their parents. This part of the study contains the focus and application of the theoretical section and allows me to go further into the hypothesis which postulates that pre-school children’s cognitive development happens in an irregular way, with steps forwards and backwards and in the shape of a spiral as proposed by Flavell, unlike Piaget’s lineal cognitive development that responds to invariable and variable mechanisms.
Being in a specific cognitive stage means that there are certain characteristic mental operations of this stage and that the individual is incapable of implementing mental operations of higher stages. The research is divided in two parts – firstly, the children are subject to questionnaires and secondly, the pre-school teachers are subject to surveys and observation files to obtain information regarding the cognitive development of pre-school children with the aim of obtaining information on the educational practices carried out for this age bracket. This being a case study, three girls and three boys are randomly selected from a group of fifteen children, which corresponds to half the total number of children aged four to five. The given names are fictitious so as not to reveal the identity of the children that collaborated on the research. Each child participated in the theory of mind questionnaires elaborated following Flavell’s theory, and in Piagetian tests of conservation of quantity for liquids, solids, numbers and volumes.
During the research a general concept of thought was used, understood as the ability to organise and utilise diverse types of information. Firstly, work was carried out using the mental operation activities presented and proposed in this research, to prepare the children for the Piagetian tests of conservation of quantity and finally the mind test. However, it is worth mentioning that only the re-test results are presented here, because the results verify the working hypothesis which postulates that pre-school children thought is more easily understood and explained as spiral-shaped, susceptible of steps forwards and backwards as given by the stimuli and the opportunities available in the environment, which is specific in this case. Children were trained and improved their thought abilities as shown in the test results. The second part of the research shows the results obtained in the pedagogical investigation of pre-school teachers. Various indicators were considered to answer the type of educational practice used to achieve significant learning in pre-school children. Simply, two questionnaires were used, the first to assess motivation and intentionality and the second to assess the educational practice itself.
Both research materials include a number of subcategories such as the classroom context, lesson objectives, provision of class registries, class control, etc. The main aim of this part of the research was to find out if learning transfer exists, and which parameters the teachers account for in order to reach significant learning and quality in the education provided. The anecdotal registries for the children that collaborated in this research, together with the research techniques with potential to be analysed and used once more in future investigations – given that cognitive development is a fertile area not yet completely explored – are shown at the end of the appendices.
The application of research materials was for me a rewarding experience, because it shed clarity on the conceptual section of this investigation, particularly in regards to the definition of thought. This, according to Flavell, is the ability of knowing one’s thoughts, ideas, fears and wishes, while at the same time considering the surrounding people. Thought is thus considered as a concept that is built socially, implying that for successful problem solving children need to learn from an early age this double emotional capability. Meanwhile, the concept of thought as Piaget understands is given by indicators such as the assimilation of a situation, followed to accommodation to it and later adaptation, finalised by an equilibrium that can be cognitive or emotional depending on the activity being executed.
The value of his concept is in the concept of lineal development, which has enabled the elaboration of a whole educational apparatus still in force. However, thanks to the recreation of Piaget’s own experiments, I have observed that children and their great neuronal plasticity, with the help of some training, are capable of displaying features of concrete thought that Piaget’s theory deems only possible from age seven. Within the context of the Child Development Centre Santa Ana del Infa, object of this investigation, thought responds to a dialectic reality because, in the presence of perseverance and work in mental operations, it is easy for children to successfully accomplish the tests proposed by Piaget, verifying that these children already display characteristics of concrete thought. It must be mentioned that children underwent a period of two weeks preparing through play techniques and the exercise of mental operations with the activities proposed in the appendices, before the research materials presented here were applied. The hypothesis, therefore, is verified in this case study.
Besides, I have included a brief anecdotal registry for each child participating in the research to allow a global vision of their reality within the context of the Child Development Centre Santa Ana del Infa. As a general diagnosis of this institution, it continues to provide a pedagogy of traditional cut. They carry out a series of activities in fine motor skills and they are taught basic notions. No work, however, is carried out with regards to mental operations of the type described in this research thesis. Despite that children have a great capacity for learning as shown in the statistical graphs. In conclusion, the hypothesis has been verified in this case study with an 80% confidence. Back to Contents
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Formal and functional aspects of cognitive Development. New York, Oxford University Press.
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