Examples of Piagetian Assimilation and Accommodation
1. A child seeing a zebra for the first time and calling it a horse. The child assimilates this information into her schema for a horse. When the child accommodates information, she takes into consideration the different properties of a zebra compared to a horse, perhaps calling a zebra a horse with stripes. When she eventually learns the name of zebra, she has accommodated this information.
2. A mental representation, or schema of a certain group of people (a racist schema) -- your whole life you grew up with those around you just adding more and more information to that schema that made sense to you (assimilation) -- you only notice information that fits your schema (assimilation) and confirms it -- then you get to college and actually meet people from that group and realize what you have learned from real interactions requires a radical reorganization of your schema regarding that group (accommodation). Your new schema is completely different, not just full of additional information
3. Assimilation is like adding air into a balloon. You just keep blowing it up. It gets bigger and bigger. For example, a two year old's schema of a tree is "green and big with bark" -- over time the child adds information (some trees lose their leaves, some trees have names, we use a tree at Christmas, etc.) - Your balloon just gets full of more information that fits neatly with what you know and adds onto it.
Accommodation is when you have to turn your round balloon into the shape of a poodle. This new balloon "animal" is a radical shift in your schema (or balloon shape). The tree example works well where we live so I go with that, but you can invent your own. Now that they are in college in the redwood forest, we have conceptualization (schema) of trees as a source of political warfare, a commodity, a source of income for some people, we know that people sit and live in trees to save them; in other words, trees are economic, political, and social vehicles. This complete change in the schema involves a lot of cognitive energy, or accommodation, a shift in our schema.
4. Most students are very good at working with computers and easily learn to navigate new websites and programs (assimilation). My college is putting heavy emphasis on distance learning and the computer literate students who enroll in my online classes seem to have an early advantage (accommodation) over students who are limited in their computer experiences. Thankfully, this advantage lessens over the weeks, but I, as the instructor, have to keep this gap in mind early in the course.
5. Young children can go from riding a big wheel to riding a tricycle with no problem--they can assimilate--it is 'sort of the same'; but to go to a bicycle there is much accommodation that must take place.
6. I've usually got three or four kinds of chairs in my class and I go to each one and sit in it to illustrate assimilation. I then sit on the corner of my desk or one of the kid's desks and use that as a jumping off point to talk about accommodation. I also want to elicit differences in similarly categorized items (such as fact that some desks have drawers and some do not). I usually will have some kind of a roll cart and I ask them why it isn't a desk. They will usually say because of the rollers but then I point out that some desks are moveable. I think it might also be pertinent to let students know that we cannot define something solely by function either since I have just recently been sitting on my desk. I want kids to understand that the categorizations can be a little arbitrary but we nevertheless come to common understandings about them.
7. When a child learns the word for dog, they start to call all four-legged animals dogs. This is assimilation. People around them will say, no, that's not a dog, it's a cat. The schema for dog then gets modified to restrict it to...
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