Learning is most effective when differential development within and across physical, social, intellectual and emotional domains is taken into account. Individuals learn best when material is appropriate to their developmental level and is presented in an enjoyable and interesting way. Individual achievements and development varies in each instructional domain.
Awareness and understanding of developmental differences among children with and without emotional, physical, or intellectual disabilities can facilitate the creation of optimal learning contexts (American Psychological Association, 2005).
HOW CHILDREN THINK AND LEARN
How we as human beings develop cognitively has been thoroughly researched. Cognitive development is the process whereby a child’s understanding of the world changes as a function of age and experience.
Piaget’s contributions to our understanding of the learning process are as important as his contributions to our understanding of stages of development.
DIFFERENT STAGES OF LEARNING DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO JEAN PIAGET:
* SENSORIMOTOR STAGE
Lasting from birth to approximately 24 months, child learns primarily through sensory experiences and movement. The child learns to experience environment. The child touches things, hold, listens, tastes, feels, and shakes everything in sight. For them, the sense of time is now and space is here. The child begins to explore with both senses and the ability to get there.
* PREOPERATIONAL STAGE
* 2 TO 5 years old.
The child develops the important skill of using symbols, but is not yet capable of mentally manipulating them in logical order. They use symbols like pictures and spoken words to represent objects and ideas. This is the time when a child learns by asking questions.
* CONCRETE OPERATIONAL STAGE
* 6 TO 11 or 12 years old.
At this age, children become capable of what Piaget refers to as mental operations and applying of logical thought to concrete situations. However, children’s use of mental operations and their ability to apply logic is effective only if they have tangible objects to which they can refer. Children begin to manipulate data mentally. They take information at hand, begin to define, compare, and contrast it. They, however, still think concretely.
The concrete operational child is capable of logical thought. This child learns through his senses but no longer relies on them to teach him. He now thinks as well. A good teacher for this age group would start each lesson at a concrete level then moved toward generalized level.
HOW ADOLESCENTS LEARN
Adolescence represents a very special time in the chronology of a young person’s developmental history.
* Approximately 11 or 12 years of age, the adolescent becomes capable of logical, abstract thinking. * Adolescents can imagine all the possibilities in any situation or problem and are capable of analyzing them to determine which best approaches are. * They have the capacity to think about all combinations and possibilities in situations, no matter how abstractly presented.
Lounsboury (2000) identified the intellectual characteristics of adolescents as: * Enjoys both intellectual and manipulative activities.
* Prefers active involvement in learning.
* Motivated to learn when lessons are related to goals and interests. * Argues to clarify own thinking and to convince others.
* Possesses a vivid imagination.
* Exhibits independent, critical thinking.
* Seeks to find casual and comparative relationships.
* Begins to abstract ideas.
* Begins thinking about own thinking (metacognition).
The change in adolescents’ abilities to think in a more abstract ways is not just a function of experience, although that is very important, but it is also a function of corresponding changes in brain growth and structure (Hamachek, 2005).
HOW ADULTS LEARN
Adults don’t learn like...