Piaget’s theory is based on stages, whereby each stage represents a qualitatively different type of thinking. Children in stage one cannot think the same as children in stage 2, 3 or 4 etc. Transitions from one stage to another are generally very fast, and the stages always follow an invariant sequence. Another important characteristic of his stage theory is that they are universal; the stages will work for everyone in the world regardless of their differences (except their age, of course, which is what the stages are based on!) Piaget acknowledged that there is an interaction between a child and the environment, and this is a focal point for his theory. He believed a child cannot learn unless they are constantly interacting with their environment, making mistakes and then learning from them. He defined children as “lone scientists”; he did not identify any need for teachers or adults in cognitive development. Children have all the cognitive mechanisms to learn on their own, and the interaction with their environment allows them to do so. To put this in perspective, another theory by Lev Vygotsky suggested that the interaction is not important at all; the child will learn when encouraged to with an adult’s assistance. I will be explaining then contrasting Vygotsky’s theory to Piaget’s in my next post – so be sure to check back for that! With the background of his theory explained, let’s look at – The Key Concepts of Piaget’s theory:
Before explaining the main part of Piaget’s theory (the four stages), it’s very important to look at some of the underlying principles behind it. Rather than write a stupidly long paragraph explaining it all, I will write the key terms in bold, then explain them in bullet points – just to keep things simple! •Schema (pl. Schemata, although some say “Schemas” for the plural) Possibly one of the most important concepts put forward by Piaget, Schemata help individuals understand the world they inhabit. They are cognitive structures that represent a certain aspect of the world, and can be seen as categories which have certain pre-conceived ideas in them. For example, my schema for Christmas includes: Christmas trees, presents, giving, money, green, red, gold, winter, Santa Claus etc. Someone else may have an entirely different schema, such as Jesus, birth, Church, holiday, Christianity etc. Of course, there are schemata for all kinds of things – yourself (self schemata), other people (people schemata), events/situations (event schemata) and roles/occupations (role schemata). With regards to Piaget’s theory, a child might have a pre-conceived schema for a dog. If the household has a small West Highland White Terrier as a dog, the schema might be “small, furry, four legs, white”. When the child interacts with a new dog – perhaps a Labrador, it will change to incorporate the new information, such as “big, golden, smooth etc.” This is known as: •Assimilation
Simply the process of incorporating new information into a pre-existing schema. So with the “dog” example, the child assimilated the Labrador’s information into the old dog schema. Assimilation is essentially fitting new information into schemata we already have in place. Unfortunately, this can lead to stereotyping. For example, if an old lady sees a teenager mug another person, she might assimilate “violence” or “crime” into her teenage schema. Next time she sees a teenager, her schema will be applied to them – and although they may be a kind person, she will probably show prejudice. Assimilation is normally a simple process, as new information already fits the pre-exisiting categories. •Accommodation
When coming across a new object for the first time, a child will attempt to apply an old schema to the object. For consistency, let’s use the dog example again. The child may have “four legs, furry” in their dog schema. When coming across another similar animal, such as a cat, they might say “Look, a dog!” – that’s...