Cognitive process is the internal mental processes, such as: perceiving and thinking. These processes are key to children's learning and their developing thinking methods. Children have different ways of seeing and thinking about the world than adults do. This confusion of the world becomes clearer as we become adults and complex reasoning becomes apparent and a way of understanding.
Cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget was hugely influential with his theories on cognitive development and play behaviour in children. Piaget's theories gave such great insight into the ways and possible ways children learn. Piaget suggested "our ability to think develops naturally with age" (1962, p93). Piaget argued, through his theories, that children's cognitive development took place in stages. Thus, he believed there are four stages to cognitive development. These stages are: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.
Sensorimotor is age 0-2 years. This stage is the motor activity stage. It is mainly based on physical interactions and experiences. By the end of this stage, the infants are aware of themselves as individuals and they also have started to develop language skills. Pre-operational is age 2-7 years. This stage the child has a firm skill in language which is based on symbolic: language, memory and imagination. Complex concepts such as, cause and effect and relationships have not been learned. The child's intelligence tends to be egocentric and intuitive and not logical. Concrete operational is age 7-11 years. This stage the child is more mature and uses logical thoughts and egocentric thinking lessens. Formal operational is age 11+ years. This stage the child is able to use adult logic, formal reasoning and development of values and concepts.
In 1966, Jerome Bruner also developed an alternative theory on cognitive development in children. This theory was in contrast to Piaget's as Bruner's approach looked into environmental and experimental factors. However, this theory shared the conviction with Piaget that children are active learners, but differed by the means on how this was accomplished. Bruner identified three basic modes by which humans convert their immediate experiences into cognitive representation. These modes were: enactive, iconic and symbolic.
Enactive mode is based on physical action of the child (muscle memory or learning), such as holding a rattle, or riding a bike. This is learning, thinking and remembering by doing something. Iconic mode is the use of images (icon is an image), which stands for an event or something in the real world such as, seeing, hearing, tasting or touching. This allows the child to mentally think about the world. Symbolic mode is the third level of thinking which is not linked to an image, action or event or such like. A symbol that stands for something else but may be different to the symbol it stands for. An example of this would be: an image of a car and the letters C-A-R. They are the same but seem to stand for different things.
Piaget's thinking revolved around basic mental processes: assimilation, accommodation and equilibration. However, there were many criticisms on Piaget's theory by other researchers. They suggested that Piaget under estimated children's abilities and tasks were methodically flawed. The tasks were also culturally biased. Additionally, researchers disagreed with Piaget's theory that children explore the world independently instead of social interaction during learning and the culture of the child. Therefore, the concepts like: assimilation, accommodation, equilibrium are abstract and this is difficult to test.
Bruner's theory places greater emphasis on the importance of language for development of thinking. He also gave more importance to social influences then Piaget did. However, both theories proposed the development occurs in particular order (sequenced). Additionally, Piaget argued that we leave earlier stages behind as we develop. Bruner, in turn, argued that earlier modes of thinking re retained. Also he believed each mode or style was progressively more powerful than the last. Piaget's work stimulated many other researches. Kohlberg (1963) went on to revise and extend Piaget's theory on moral development. Bruner (1966) put much emphasis on modes of representation which means the form in which information is retained (kept in the mind). A child is able to manipulate information in different forms, as their mind develops. This affects the reasoning used by the child.
Both Bruner and Piaget influenced the way children are taught in the classroom. Although Bruner's theory is narrower in scope than Piaget's, Bruner's ideas have been applied more directly to education, for example spiral curriculum. Bruner also was responsible of bring to light another theorist work. He was inspired not only by Piaget but also Vygotsky. Lev Vygotsky's work was banned by Stalin after his death, so it was little known until Bruner introduced his work. Bruner's theory had similarities to both Piaget and Vygotsky. An example of this is the social-cognitive theory and also how interpersonal communication is so important. Bruner and other cognitive constructivists like Vygotsky suggested that language was the key and the basis of understanding, no matter how limited the language was. Whereas Piaget saw these transitions take place in children at around 7 years of age, as a result of concrete operations development.
Although each theorist has their different approaches; Piaget described it as self discovery. Bruner disagreed with stages of Piaget, he described it more like representation of knowledge at different ages and is one of the ideas that has been applied to education. Education has been adapted and moulded by the many ideas that have come from studies by theorists.