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Evaluation on two theories of cognitive development

This essay I will look at the similarity and the differences between Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories in explanation of child cognitive development. Particularly it will describe their theories on the importance of social interactions in influencing development. I will give a brief overview of the four stages of Piaget’s theories. Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories will then be evaluate, with key terms explained. I aim to show that Vygotsky’s theory placed far more emphasis on social interactions in children's cognitive development than Piaget, and that their theories were informed by their own cultural influence.

Cognitive development theory explains how humans obtain and construct knowledge of themselves and their planet. The theory of cognitive development was first proposed by Jean Piaget, however there are other major theoretical approaches to cognitive development, as well as those of Vygotsky. Piaget approached the subject from a biological and life perspective, while Vygotsky approached the subject from an environmental and culture perspective. I will

look at the impact both theories have had on child development, I will, also look at the differences along with others, as well as the resemblance of Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories and evaluate them.

Piaget's theory focuses on intelligence and how it changes as children grow up. While, Vygotsky's theory centres on the social action and he defines intelligence as the capacity to learn from teaching.

We will also look at the impact both Piaget and Vygotsky's theories have had on education and how they have been applied to education. Piaget's theory is about child intellectual development and the gaining of knowledge. While Vygotsky's main theory was how culture influence development, through language and the society.

Jean Piaget was born on August 1896 and died 1980 (56 years old), he studied the development of children’s understanding, through examing and paying attention to children while he carried out his experiments. According to Piaget cognitive development occurs through the interaction of innate capacities with environmental events and progresses through a series of hierarchical, qualitative different and stages (Gross 2005). All children pass through Piaget stages in the same level without missing anyone of them, except if the child has brain damage or brain problem.

Rather than trying to explain individual differences why some children are more intelligent than others Piaget was interested in how intelligence itself changes as children grow (Gross 2010). Important feature of Piaget’s theory was schemas, Piaget saw schema as mental structures which organise past experiment and provide a means of understanding future experiences. As we grow so our schema become increasingly complex (Gross 2005). Assimilation, Accommodation and Equilibration are the three courses of Adaptation expressed by Piaget's theory.

Assimilation is the process by which we incorporate new information into existing schema. For example babies will reflexively suck a nipple and other objects, such as a finger (Gross 2010).

Accommodation into schemas enables children to make sense of and deal with the world. Piaget argues that children are active in exploring the world and, in general, do not need instruction or examples from others to develop their cognitive abilities. Development will take place solely through the child's own actions on the environment in a form of discovery learning where others are facilitators not teachers.

Piaget’s Stages theory of Cognitive Development, Piaget suggests that all children develop through four stages and they all develop in the same role, these stages are Sensori-motor, Pre-operational, Concrete operational and Formal operational.

The first stage was Sensori-motor stage which initially occurs from birth to two years of child’s life. Infants learn about the world primarily through their sense (sensori-), and by doing (motor) (Gross 2005).An important discovery during the sensori-motor stage is the object permanence. An infant will look where an object disappears for a few moment but wont search for it. If the object doesn’t reappear the infant apparently loses interest. Piaget’s demonstrate the limited object performance of babies between eight and twelve months. They can retrieve a hidden object only from its original hiding place, not where it was last hidden. Not until about twelve months will they search under the cushion where they last saw the object hidden (Gross 2005).

The second stage was Pre-operational stage this take place between the age of two and four years. The infant begins to utilise symbols to classify objects. Objects are also personified by the infant and they are able to think about events that are not directly present. The infant is not yet able to conceptualise time. At this stage the infant will take information and adjust it to fit his ideas. The child tends to be influenced by the things seen, rather than by logical principles or operations (Gross 2010). According to Piaget pre-operational children are egocentrism that is they see the world from their own standpoint and cannot appreciate that other people might see things differently, they can not put themselves in other people’s shoes (Gross 2005). Also Piaget study of conservation is the understanding that any quantity such as fluid, numbers or lengths remains the same regardless of a visual change for example, if a fluid is transfer from a short large glass to a high slim glass a child at this stage would say that there was more liquid in the slim glass or that there was more fluid in the large glass.

The third stage was Concrete Operations stage, this take place between the ages of seven to eleven years. This stage the child is now capable of performing logical operations, but only in the presence of actual objects (Gross 2010). One remaining problem for the concrete operational child is transitivity task (Gross 2005). For example, if you tell a child that Jean is taller than Pat and Pat is taller than Carol and asked whether Jean or Carol is taller, children under eleven cannot solve this problem entirely in their heads, they can only solve it using real objects such as toys.

The last stage was Formal Operations stage this take place at the age of eleven to fifteen years and associates the individual with no longer requiring concrete objects to make rational judgments. The individual is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning and their ability of thinking is similar to that of an adult.

Lev Vygotsky was born the same year as Piaget (1896, died 1934) was particularly interested in the relationship between being taught by adults and the child cognitive development. He developed his theories at around the same time as Piaget, Vygotsky’s theory is known as the social development theory. Vygotsky and Piaget agree that development doesn’t occur in a vacuum, knowledge is constructed as a result of the child’s active interaction with the environment (Gross 2010).

Vygotsky outline alternative to Piaget's theory. Vygotsky believed that cognitive learning was a social event, which through language and interaction with other children and adults, children would begin to learn about and challenge their surroundings.

Three themes unified Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism and they are: Culture, central role of language and the zone of proximal growth (Oates et al. 2005).

Cultural tools are what the child inherits, these can be technological such as bicycles and other physical devices (Gross 2005).

Culture tool can pass from one individual to another copied learning. Instructed learning Involves remembering the instructions of the teacher and then using these instructions to learn. Children don’t need to reinvent the world anew as Piaget seemed to believe. They can benefit from the accumulated wisdom of previous generations (Gross 2005).

The central role of language, as a child begins to speak, his thought processes also begin to develop. In essence, it is language which directs behaviour. Vygotsky describes three stages in the development of speech. Each of these three stages of speech has its own function. Speech Stages are Social Speech (external speech), Egocentric Speech, and Inner Speech.

Social Speech (external speech) at this stage a child uses speech to direct the behaviour of others. A child uses speech to communicate feelings and emotions such as weeping when hungry and laughing when happy.

Egocentric Speech In this stage, a child often talk to him or herself, regardless of someone paying attention to them. At this speech stage they think out loud, they may also talk about what they are doing as they are doing it, they reason that language must be said to direct their behaviour (, 29/01/11).

Inner Speech is a soundless speech used by older children and adults. It allows us to direct our thinking and behaviour. Here we are able to engage in all forms of higher mental functions. In this stage one is able to count in one’s head, use logical memory-inherent relationships, and inner signs (, 29/01/11).

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) defined those functions that haven’t yet matured but are in the process of maturing (Vygotsky, 1978). Scaffolding refers to the kind of guidance and support adults provide children in the zone of proximal development by which children acquire their knowledge and skills (Wood & Wood, 1996), although scaffolding those not actually explain how children internalise what the teacher provides (Gross 2005).

Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories have same things in common, both hold a constructive view, Piaget's assimilation look like Vygotsky's appropriation, however they disagree on point of influence of social interactions in children's cognitive development.

Vygotsky’s theory emphasise the value of language and social interaction in a child’s cognitive development. Vygotsky recognised the importance that different culture can take part in a child’s cognitive development.

In conclusion, Piaget's stage theory is useful in describing the basic process of child cognitive development. However, because development cannot take place in the social vacuum, Piaget’s theory is limited. Vygotsky's emphasis on social interaction’s influence better accounts for the everyday development of children's cognitive abilities. when you evaluate Piaget’s to Vygotsky’s you clearly note that, both theories agreed that the child must mentally construct knowledge, on the other hand, Vygotsky placed emphasis on the role of social interaction in this construction process. Vygotsky also placed emphasis on culture in shaping cognitive development.

Gross, R. (2005), Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, 5th Edition, Hodder and Stoughton.

Oates, J., Wood, C. and Grayson, A. (2005) Psychological development and early childhood, Oxford, Blackwell.

Vygotsky, L.S (1978) mind in society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard university press

Wood, D & wood, H. (1996) Vygotsky, tutoring and learning. Oxford review of education, 22, 5-16. (29/01/2011)

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