Comparing Different Theories About Cognitive Development

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The Cognitive development focuses on how an individual processes and evaluates information. For example my one year old daughter assumes that every insect she see's flying around is a fly regardless if it's a butterfly or a lady bug. At her age she only thinks in a general way. Cognitive development is a process where my daughter will learn to think in a specific way. The basic premise for cognitive developments is how an individual learns to communicate with others, develop new abilities, and increases their understanding about themselves, and their surroundings.

For this essay I will be comparing and contrasting theories from the work of theorist Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. "Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that the way a child retains intelligence is through social interaction and life experiences. When we are submitted to information, we process and evaluate it and then retain it" (Slavin, 2009). For example children just does not accept information instead they analyze it. Let's say a child is introduced to lower case letters. Learning takes place as the child access pre existing information on upper case letters. The child then evaluates the current information on the lower case letters and then develops a link to their pre existing information. Lastly the child combines the new information understanding that each letter consist of one upper and lower case letter. Both theorists believed that social interaction with others is an important aspect in a child's development regardless if it's with their peers or the influence of adults. In other words Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that children learn by making new discoveries as they interact with their environment and with peers.

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These were the only few points Piaget and Vygotsky agreed on. "Jean Piaget was a theorist that believed that a child learns through continuous interaction with their own environment in return a child gains their intelligence" (Slavin, 2009). He also believed that children develop intelligence through independent learning through continuous activity. For instance when a child is actively involved exploring the world around them, they begin to form ideas. The more active they are the more knowledge is gained.

On the other hand theorist Lev Vygotsky believed a "child's growth is from social interaction and the cultural environment with adults and their peers" (Slavin, 2009). According to Vygotsky the process of learning takes place through social contribution. Through social interaction children not only increase their knowledge, but it influences how a child thinks and behaviors. As a child develops they depend on social and cultural tools to provide them with the tools to help them perceptions of the world.

Piaget and Vygotsky believed that children learn and understand at different developmental stages in their life. They both developed different phrases of development for a better understanding of cognitive development. Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that activities must have a purpose for a child's current developmental status for learning to occur.

Piaget stated that a child's cognitive growth occurs at different stages, but Vygotsky based his theory on Zone of Proximal Development. This theory relates to the difference between how a child learns to become an independent learner and what a child can achieve with help from an adult. Piaget developed four stages which begin from birth through adulthood in which relates to the individual ability to understand and process new information. "Piaget's developmental stages include the sensor motor stage (birth to 2 years of age), the preoperational stage ( 2 to 7 years of age), and the concrete operational stage ( ages 7 to 11). During the formal operational stage ( age 11 to adulthood), young people develop the ability to deal with hypothetical situations and to monitor their own thinking" (Slavin, 2009, pg 52). These stages represent how a child thinks at different periods in their lives. A child must reach a suitable level of maturity to move to the following stage. For example my one year old daughter is in the sensor stage. At this stage a child uses their senses and movements to figure out the world around them. For example my daughter enjoys squeezing our dog spike. This in return causes spike to cry. My daughter understands that by squeezing spike will cause him to react. My daughter is realizing certain events will cause a certain type of behavior or reaction. My older daughter is in the preoperational stage. At this stage is when a child uses symbolic playing. For example my daughter enjoys pretending to be a doctor. She talks as if I was her patient as she has seen her own doctor do. This Symbolic play allows my daughter to understand, learn, and prepare her for her future.

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Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky focuses on the means of the development, excluding different developmental stages. Vygotsky stresses that culture and social factors contribute in shaping cognitive development. Vygotsky's found that private speech assists children to think through their problems and finding an answer to those problems. For example as a parent we teach our children how to tie their shoes. We do this by practicing several times with our child. Over time the child will become responsible and will eventually say the steps aloud to recall the steps needed to complete this task, which is called private speech. "Another component to his theory is the Zone of Proximal Development" (Slavin, 2009). The Zone of Proximal Development is when a child has the capability to learn but there are some things they will not be able to do successfully without appropriate assistance. The final component of Vygotsky theory is Scaffolding. Scaffolding means "providing a child with a great deal of support during the early stages of learning and then diminishing support and having the child take on increasing responsibility as soon as she or he is able" (Slavin, 2009, pg 43). "Vygotsky believed that scaffold provides a child with intelligence and experience and from this the child is capable to complete complex tasks on their own" (Slavin, 2009).

Piaget and Vygotsky agree that social interaction is a factor in cognitive development. They also believed that children go through the same developmental stages at different times. Therefore, a teacher can plan small group activities where students are able to work together with other students at the same stage level.

Piaget's theory of cognitive development focuses how a child can construct knowledge on their own. Piaget believed that a child will learn independent learning with minimum or no interaction from their teacher. Let's say a kindergarten teacher following Piaget's theory focuses on how the children is developing and is not focused on the outcome of the assignment. The teacher can facilitate this learning environment by providing an area and social experience to help the student to discover the world around them on their own. For example when teaching about shapes by using items that are familiar to the student will encourage them to discover for themselves through unstructured interaction with their environment. Instead of teaching students specific instructions, a teacher can provide activities that allow children to interact with their surroundings.

Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development focuses how culture and social interaction help children to understand the world around them. Vygotsky's believed that educators should find a way to work closely with their students. A possible application to this theory can be applied to first graders. First graders knowledge levels vary per student. Some students may already know how to read while others are still trying to master the concept. For instance a good method to help both children that are reading and not reading is by sounding out a word when they get stuck while reading a story. There has to be an understanding and respect between student and teacher for instruction to be effective. In conclusion Piaget and Vygotsky offer insight into the different ways a child learns and by using these theories can make it possible for teachers to better accommodate the unique needs of each of their students.