Read this article to learn about Jean Piaget’s Theories and Practices in Education. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Introduction to Jean Piaget’s Theories and Practices in Education 2. Intelligence according to Jean Piaget’s Theory 3. Memory Components: Figurative and Operative 4. Psychological Growth and the Teacher 5. Development and Learning.
- Introduction to Jean Piaget’s Theories and Practices in Education
- Intelligence according to Jean Piaget’s Theory
- Memory Components: Figurative and Operative
- Psychological Growth and the Teacher
- Psychological Growth and the Teacher
1. Introduction to Jean Piaget’s Theories and Practices in Education:
The significance of the contributions of Piaget has been likened to a bomb in intensity as well as in the area of effect. During the last fifty years, there has hardly been any attempt to develop curriculum for pre-school and early school children which has not been affected by or, rather, has not drawn heavily upon the notions of Piaget.
Great are the implications of Piaget’s ideas so far the enrichment of early childhood education is concerned.
Carol Honstead has highlighted his contribution in this regard: “The emphasis on enriched experiences in early years of life has resulted in governmental programmes such as Operation Head Start, and, other educational efforts for young disadvantaged children, and a general increase of interest in intellectual activities in pre-schools and elementary schools.
Piagetian theory, the primary impetus to all this action, will be of special interest to educators of young children.”
Piaget’s long clinical observations of children, mostly longitudinal, and his theorising of the cognitive or intellectual development of the child, have great educational implications which may be put as under:
i. Education is for guiding children towards higher levels of learning’s.
ii. Experiences mature in learning’s.
iii. Social and physical environments provide experiences, so programming environments is very significant for the enrichment of experiences of the desired nature.
iv. Learning’s only take place when the new experiences are related to the old ones, and appear as further development of the former.
v. “Crucial learning’s take place during the first six to eight years of life”—Whence this period of life is very important for the intellectual development of the child.
vi. Cognitive or intellectual development occurs in a constant sequence; an attempt to teach a child something for which the proper stage of development has not yet been attained, stands little chance of success—a significant implication for the curriculum framers.
vii. The sequence of the stages of cognitive development is related to the needs which an organism hits as he advances in age.
viii. Learning’s result in development which occurs in the form of the formation of structures or “schemata” (as Piaget calls them).
ix. ‘Structures,’ are the result of both sensorimotor and mental or cognitive activities.
To elaborate, in some detail, the ideas of Piaget as mentioned above, and which have very significant implications for education, will be very helpful in understanding Piaget’s contribution to education. Since birth, a child starts getting sensations.
Sensations which have meanings for someone, are his perceptions. And, such sensations should be called experiences which have their effect on the mental or conative development of an organism.
If development is the result of experiences which mainly are earned through overt o – covert activities, and experiences are provided by the physical and social environment that a child is living in, then what is the function of education?
Education is a process which is meant to guide a child towards higher levels of learning. Piaget observes each child to be learning as his environment motivates him to indulge into some overt or covert activity.
Education is for stimulating or programming the environment for more learning or for higher levels of learning. But Piaget has discovered a sequence of stages of cognitive development which those who are related to the education of the child, would do well to keep into consideration while selecting the items of learning or the points of teaching.
Thus, very important has been the contribution of Piaget in the field of curriculum-making for the pre-school and early school children.
So far the stages of sensorimotor period are concerned the child develops cognitively or intellectually through a sequence of innately motivated activities. Piaget has divided this period, starting from birth till the end of second year, into six stages. This is the period when no formal education is possible, nor required.
The next is the Pre-operational Period, ranging up to seven years. It is during this period when conceptual thoughts develop through a long process of perceptions beginning from the stage of fundamental ambiguity of sensory information, so well demonstrated by Ames.
The ambiguity happens to be the result of momentary sensory information, and because of the subject’s (child’s) failure in taking other information into account. The teacher at a proper stage can provide different perspectives to the child for an accurate perception of an object.
Piaget affected the curriculum -framers immensely in deciding the items of information to be included for the education of the children of different age groups or at different levels of cognitive development, and also in deciding approaches and devices for children of different ages. The sequence of items and approaches are strictly in order of the intellectual or cognitive development of the child.
i. After the age of five, a child is able to co-relate his previous knowledge with that of the present one, and so ideas may be built upon ideas by the teacher; writes A.L. Baldwin “one of the important developments in the child’s acquisition of conceptual thought is the gradual appearance of the effects of previous knowledge upon his thinking.”
ii. Piaget and Lamberier concluded, “….some illusions that depend upon the distortion of momentary perceptions decline as the child becomes older and compensates for them through perceptual activity.” During this period, the teacher would do well if he makes the child indulge in perceptual activities more and more.
iii. The automatically moving child towards conceptual invariance, that is, a change in place, in order or positions, does not affect the size of an object, may be helped by the school to have this conception developed earlier, and, in a clearer way through a number of experiments.
iv. Education as a process may be made greatly helpful in developing the child from the stage of sensorimotor adaptations towards more conceptual and cognitive types of adaptations, and the child develops new conceptual—intellectual ways to tackle problems. The long and continual observations of Piaget suggest ways and means to help the child do this.
v. Again, it is during the early stages of Pre-operational Period that there develop mental images. These images represent specific external events in specific ways, and are different from visual imageries; as images do not have the generality of the imageries but are, rather, the internalised imitation of a sensorimotor action. It is reproducible over and over, though all the details are not represented in an image.
If desirable sensorimotor activities are conducted under a well thought- out plan, such ideas would develop, strongly supported by images, that the intellectual development would be not only rapid but better also in all respects—”ideas build on ideas”; sensorimotor schemas are the foundations upon which perceptual and then conceptual schemas are built.
The most important development of the Pre-operational Period is the development of symbolic schemas—language is the climax of such a development. With the entrance of the child into the period of Pre- operations, there commences a stage when the child develops symbolic schemas very fastly. But symbolic schemas are of two kinds—non-verbal and verbal.
Nonverbal schemas are non-communicable, and are related to one’s idiosyncrasies; they are mainly responsible for the emotional personality of an individual. Plays, dreams, reveries and others, represent one’s symbolic schemas. Symbolic schemas of this first kind, affect a man’s behaviour, and the interpersonal relations are affected because of the same.
Much guidance has been sought from the works of Piaget, not only in planning syllabi for academic classes but also, he may provide guidance in chalking out syllabi for plays at different age-levels. Piaget’s book “Play, Dreams and Imitation” is a guide in this respect.
The book illustrates through his observations that the plays of the child through successive chronological stages are the evidences of a child’s psycho-neurological development in the field of symbolic schemas.
The stages of development, since the time the child is shortly to cross over to the period of Pre-operations, are as Projection of Symbolic Schemas onto new objects; projection of Imitative Schemas onto new Objects; simple identification of one object with another; Identification of child’s body with that of other people or things; Simple Symbolic Combinations involving whole schemas instead of simple objects; Compensatory Combinations; the stages of plays for Catharsis, of liquidating combinations; and, with anticipatory symbolic contributions and so on.
The guardians or teachers who are interested in the development of the child in all fields, and especially in that of cognition or intelligence will do well if they select or provide plays for him in the order, and of nature considering the stages of natural development of the child.
Of immense importance is the stage when the child so rapidly goes on developing verbal schemas. The importance of verbal schemas in the development of concepts is second to none.
Between the second and the fifth year, the child earns language with a marvelous speed—it shows how much developed he grows in verbal schemas. But, it is only later on that the words become definable, transmissible and constant; initially, they are the sounds which involve the whole range of sensorimotor actions done in connection with the object.
For a child, about two years of age, “ball” involves throwing, grasping, bouncing, looking and so on.
The school can play very effective role in conceptual development through helping in the formulation of verbal schemas. The faster the child formulates verbal schemas, the faster he would be developing conceptually. For the formulation of verbal schemas, social environment is required, and the school can prove itself to be the best agency to provide a desirable social environment for the same.
Piaget suggests that for the development of verbal schemas, many contextual situations can be provided by the school where the children get to listen words being used in connection with certain activities in which they themselves are involved.
In his book “Play, Dreams and Imitation”, Piaget gives the example of the use of the term ‘slug’ by Jacqueline to illustrate that a child up to the age of 4, cannot use a term as representative of a specific object of a class, for him it would be the same ‘slug’ everywhere, wherever it may be seen.
Piaget speaks of the use of such terms as ‘pre-concepts’. It is later on that the child genuinely achieves conceptual thinking, and he comes to know that a class cannot be pointed out.
It is during the latter stage of the period of Pre-operations that the child should be assisted in classifying objects when he has already started putting similar things into groups. As the child further develops into conceptual thinking, the teacher and other elders may ask such questions to him that he is engaged in more abstract discussion of classes and classifications.
Now, the child can follow that a class “is a set of objects or events that has certain characteristics in common”. The child can understand, and, have a better knowledge of his physical and social environment when he is asked to classify and label objects and events of his environments.
The child may be led to discuss relationships among classes. The child can now think with some logic, and, in abstract how a sub-class has characteristics in addition to the defining characteristics of a class. At a further stage, the child starts grasping the “relationship of implication”; and when the child is told “this object is metallic”, he understands that the statement implies “this object conducts electricity”.
It is during the final period of cognitive development that the child starts mastering the more complex relationships among classes; it is the period of formal logic, and Piaget has described it as the period of Formal Operations.
These stages are constant so far their sequence is concerned, and, it is very important for curricula-framers and teachers to select and set the items of teaching accordingly.
The pre-school child cannot think how an event would seem to be from different points of view; it is not possible until the child has developed from the stage of sensorimotor or perceptual schemas, to that of the conceptual one. The role of the school can be very important in freeing the child from the egocentrism of early childhood.
For this, the teacher should ask him such questions as—”there is a plant with a lone flower growing on it; what would you feel if it falls down?” The child—”I shall be happy. “And, what would the gardener feel?”
The child, “He would not be happy, he would be, rather, sad.” Such questions may help the child develop cognitively and conatively that he can think over an event from different perspectives. This is also a way to help the child grow more social. Thus, the child will be able to distinguish between “the view of the object and the properties of an object itself”.
Piaget labels the latter Pre-operational period, that is, the stage from 4 to 7 years as intuitive stage. Baldwin writes, “During this stage, the child acquires a mode of dealing with many of the problems of integrating different view-points and information from different sources.”
Again, it is implied here for those who are practising education that the approach of the teacher should be such that he may lead the student to integrate information from different sources. The stage has been called ‘intuitive’ because sometimes, a solution to the problem is found with no clear conceptual representation.
The example of three beads strung to a wire was an experiment to verify the fact that sometimes solution to a problem is found intuitively.
Generally, after 11, the child enters the period of Concrete and Formal Operations. The period has been so called by Piaget because it is the period when the child (shortly to grow as an adolescent) starts thinking operationally in a consistent way “—the stable, equilibrated type of thinking results from the organisation of operational thoughts into inter-related systems”.
Thus, according to Piaget, the period of “Concrete and Formal Operations” is characterised by stable thinking; and thinking can only be stable when it is equilibrated, that is, when proper accommodation has taken place, and the child can behave in a perfect logical fashion.
Piaget suggests that this is the stage when education related to mathematical groups and grouping, can be imparted with much probability of success. The nine basic groupings as given by Piaget, show the logico-mathematical development during the adolescent period. This is the period when cognitive development attains its climax.
For an effective teaching, the teacher dealing with such adolescents should put such problems to the students for which they should now be expected to be able to tackle successfully. The teacher should begin with the preliminary grouping of equalities, and, proceed further gradually through secondary additive and bi-univocal multiplication of classes to co-univocal multiplication of relations.
Thus, the reasoning of students can be enhanced to the maximum possible level of development. Piaget suggests that to help achieve the maximum in a still shorter period, and, in a better way, the teacher should make the students solve a number of such exercises which may activate their reasoning faculties in search of finding relationships in different situations.
Such exercises should require “the ability to think of all the possible kinds of relationships that can exist among events….”. All this would help in further developing combinatorial thinking.
The objective of the teacher should be to enable his taught, but only those who are, generally, in the plus 11 age group—to review all the choices in a system so that they may be able to go through them sequentially, and exhaust all possibilities.
Again, Piaget would like to like categorical suggestion by dint of his minute observations that no attempt should be made to make the child acquire the concept of conservation of volume until the period of Formal Operation. The conception of the conservation of mass, of weight and of quantity, of course, he would have acquired earlier—volume involves both density and quantity; a kind of balance between the two.
It is during the last period of cognitive development, that is, the period of formal operations, that the adolescent acquires the ability for formal logic. It is the period for logical operations. He can assess the validity of the logical relationship between two statements. An adolescent developed to this stage, can search for instances which may suit the statement.
The teacher teaching such adolescents, should put such questions, the solutions of which demand logical thinking, leading to such logical conclusions which may make clear the relationship between each two statements or among more statements related to one another.
Inhelder and Piaget put a number of problems to the students to test the capability of their logical thinking as well as to improve the same. The students were asked to formulate and test hypotheses regarding a number of possible factors pertaining to different events or developments.
Such an experiment has been reported in one of their volumes. In the experiment, the student Dei, aged 16; 10 could appreciate the relationship among three variables—weight, material and length of the rod. Her hypothesis also included form of the rod as a possible factor. She was asked to test her hypothesis.
The way she conducted her experiment, made her understanding of various logical relationships explicit—such an understanding marks the period of Formal Operations; and a teacher should do all that is possible to further develop such understanding through presenting situational problems before the students which demand logical thinking for their solutions.
During the period, the teacher should engage his students to experiment with gravity, volume and weight as variables so that there may grow a proper logical understanding of the relationship among different variables.
2. Intelligence according to Jean Piaget’s Theory:
For Piaget, intelligence is both an open as well as a closed system. It is open in the sense that it goes on developing as it reacts to the environment— “intelligence derives knowledge from the environment”.
So, for the development of knowledge, the school should provide such an environment that to derive knowledge from which the child possesses readiness, both physical and cognitive. It is a closed system as “intelligence incorporates environmental attributes into its existing structures”.
There are two basic functions of intelligence:
(1) Adaptation, and
(2) Organisation. These are functional invariant.
Piaget writes “… intelligence is an adaptation … life is a continuous creation of increasingly complex forms and a progressive balancing of these forms with the environment. To say that intelligence is a particular instance of biological adaptation is thus to suppose that it is essentially an organisation and that its function is to structure the universe just as the organism structures its immediate environment.”
The role of the teacher may be very important in the creation of increasingly complex forms, by way of putting problematic questions for the better understanding of the environment and for the perfect formulation of structures.
Sometimes, balancing of structures or forms may need external assistance which a teacher may provide. This assistance may be provided by the teacher through probing questions or through providing clues, or supporting with examples or illustrations.
One very important conviction of Piaget, regarding assimilation, adaptation and accommodation or the restoration of equilibrium is that “Accommodation, then, is the accommodation of old experiences to new, while assimilation is the assimilating of new experiences into the old ones” (as William so explains the ideas of Piaget in his book Introduction to the Psychology of Learning).
Years back, Herbert Spencer had introduced a very important term—”apperception mass” in pedagogy. “Apperception mass” is a term which expresses “old experiences”. New experiences can only be assimilated in a way that again a state of equilibration is restored. This can be possible only if they are properly related to the old ones. Piaget speaks of correlating ideas upon ideas, of correlating new ideas with the old ones.
“It is in this sense that intelligence, whose logical operations constitute a mobile and at the same time permanent equilibrium between the universe and thought, is an extension and a perfection of all adaptive processes.”
3. Memory Components: Figurative and Operative:
Piaget theorises—”Then the most likely hypothesis is that the memory code itself depends on the subject’s operations and therefore this code is modified during development, and depends at any given moment on the subject’s operational level.” (Jean Piaget).
Memory does not represent merely mental images being reproduced through a system of coding and decoding. Memory is not consisted of mere copies of internal and external realities. Memory is affected by the operational level of the subject, or it is modified along with the development of the subject.
This fact is very significant for the teacher; his expectation from the student will be more realistic; and he can contribute towards the modification of his taught memory by way of doing something for the cognitive development of his taught.
Thus, memory ceased to be considered as a mere retention of matter. “The material retained improves with time as far as recall is concerned because operations have progressively developed.”
On page 4 of his book ‘On the Development of Memory and Identity’’ Jean Piaget writes—”What the subject retains is not the perceptual model as such, but the way in which he assimilated it to his operational schemata, in terms of the operational level of each individual subject”.
The teacher needs to see that the way of assimilation is such that better retention may occur in respect of clarity, exactness and period of retention.
On page 14, in his book ‘On the Development of Memory and Identity’ Jean Piaget writes: ” The figurative component, which is perceptual in the case of recognition, imperative in the case of reconstruction, and mental imagery in the case of the memory images necessary for evocation.
The other is the operative component, which consists of action…. ‘schemas’ or representative schemas.” (either Pre-operational or Operational, 1968).
The memory has two components:
i.The figurative and
i.The three functions are possible because of the figurative component of memory:
2. Imitative and
The recognition is possible because of the perceptual component of the figurative memory. One can recognise a thing only when the same has been perceived previously by him. One can imitate something because of the figurative component of the memory.
When a teacher makes a child describe something orally or in writing that he has perceived previously, he reconstructs it; it becomes possible because of the imitative function of the figurative component of memory. Feelings arise related to some event of the past, again because of the figurative component of the memory; it is evocative function of the component.
ii.The other component of memory is operative; it consists of ‘schemas’ or ‘schemata’ which are the result of actions. The ‘schemas’ may be representative of past actions. The period concerned may be Operational or the Pre-operational one.
4. Psychological Growth and the Teacher:
Of course, psychological growth parallels with physical growth, it commences with birth and continues till full maturity in adulthood. Psychological development is a process which continues with ‘equilibrium’ as its goal; development is ‘progressive equilibrium’. Learning is an activity to which a school is formally related. ‘Learning is an activity directed towards equilibrium’.
Mental equilibrium is a ‘mobile equilibrium’, and not a static one. The process towards mental equilibrium is enhanced because of learning that a school provides through different activities. The end, both of learning, and that of the processes of psychological development is ‘adaptation’ which happens to be consisted of ‘assimilation’ and ‘accommodation’.
‘Assimilation’ is ‘taking in’ and ‘accommodation’ is the change that has been required to be done in the environment so that the organism may find himself fully adapted to the changed milieu.
Learning is a process initiated through some activity, through such an activity which brings about some change in behaviour. JP Guilford defines learning as ‘a change in behaviour resulting from behaviour’. It is the behaviour of the teacher, and as a result of its impact upon the behaviour that of the taught, a change comes about, and it is learning.
Piaget would like to put the same in the words that the activity of learning helps in bringing about ‘mental equilibrium’, ‘Mental equilibrium is possible only when the ‘mental structure’ or ‘schema’ has fully been developed in relation to some activity, and through the performance of that activity.
So, for learning, activity is a must; this is why John Holt writes, “In short, the school should be a sort of smorgasbord of intellectual, artistic, creative and athletic activities, from which each child could get whatever he wanted; or as much as he wanted, or as little.”
5. Development and Learning:
There are mainly two views regarding the process of development. The one is that development is the result of the ‘unfolding of the growth process’. Prediction is possible if development is the result of maturational process.
But the behaviour of an organism cannot be fully explained if we view development as a process of continuous growth linking different stages as the previous ones leading to the next one. Learning has its impact too, and it is quite important.
The realisation of learning as an important variable in the process of development led some to formulate an alternative view of development according to which ‘child’s development is essentially the accumulation of the learning’.
According to this view, development in behaviour is the result of experiences that the environment provides. Learning is always acquired from experiences. The purely maturational view cannot recognise the impact of learning in the process of development. The behaviourists, of course, recognise the importance of learning in the modification of behaviour.
But Piaget formulated a third view as he found both the above mentioned views to be incomplete in defining the process of development. To this third kind of developmental process, he has termed ‘equilibration’. Piaget’s theory is not merely an amalgamation of the two; he has rather exposed the limitation of each of them in describing in full the development of a child.
When he describes the cognitive development of the child, he seems more to be criticising learning as a sole factor affecting the process of development. He has described the development of the concept of class, of the object conception, or conservation of quantity etc. relating the same to different chronological stages.
Piaget objects to the theory of learning, it being passive when learning is taken to be imposing some habit without allowing the organism to be active in the process. His belief is that the child is always active; he is active in relation to his environment—to adapt to it through accommodation; and in relation to the drives related to his inner needs.
His being thus active or his own activity results in a concatenation of experiences. And, the end result, as Piaget has termed it, is equilibration. New experiences are merged into the existing operational groupings, and each time a developed operational organisation emerges, characterised by full equilibration.
The schemata go on being organised into more and more developed operational groupings as a result of an organism’s being always active in relation to his social environment, and, to his own empirical experiences.
The school provides such a social environment where direct teaching of experiences acquired by others, is conducted. AL Baldwin writes, ‘The combination of the social learning and its empirical effectiveness could account for the acquisition of the belief system.” Very little is taught directly in the wider society outside the school, and a huge amount of learning is the result of empirical experiences.
Organisation of operational groupings characterised by equilibration, indicates development; such a development cannot be defined merely by the first view of development, that is, the ‘maturational’, nor merely by the second, that is, ‘accumulation of experiences’.
Of course, Piaget recognises the importance of maturity for cognitive development too, and, accepts; the role of learning in the process of development, but his belief is that for development equilibration is must. The maturity enables the child for social and empirical learning; but they both serve as variables in the process of development only when equilibration is there.
Equilibration is a state of development when a child has risen from a state of incoherence, irrelevance, as the behaviour of the child up to the state of Pre-operational, is more often characterised by. The behaviour of the child, his beliefs, all is marked by contradictions till equilibration is there.
Harmonious behaviour and a coherent system of beliefs are the evidence of the presence of equilibration, of a state of well-organised operational system or a system of beliefs. To Piaget, as to a number of other psychologists, a child is active, even apparently, when he seems to be only receptive—a feeling child or a thinking child is also an active child, and such an activity too, furthers the process of development.
Equilibration also needs to be developed in face of differences evidenced in the behaviour of other or in their points of view.
The result is always, conflict in the behaviour and belief of the child confronting such a situation. But human nature is such, each state of conflict makes the child active in such a way that the final outcome in a reorganized operational system of beliefs, which is ‘coherent, harmonious, and equilibrated’.
Thus, Piaget’s hypothesis for explaining the process of development contains the following four kinds of forces:
2. Experiences acquired through reactions to the environment and to one’s own inner urges.
3. Teaching to the child by the school teacher or by other people of the social environment; it includes both the explicit and the implicit teachings.
4. The process of equilibration.
We, the teachers, are part of the third force as mentioned here. The teachers must not forget that for teaching the concept of invariance of physical objects, they will have to wait till the child has matured to the level of Concrete Operations.
But we cannot expect the child to have acquired the concept of invariance of an object merely by attaining the age of 7 or more— it is by dint of experiences acquired by the child as a reaction to his environment that a matured child may develop the concept of object-invariance.
And, the teaching may serve to help acquire such an experience directly or through the organisation of some experiment. But no coherent system of beliefs (or operational system) can develop till contradictions are reconciled through a self-initiated, natural system of equilibration.
Thus, we can say that no other theory of development has so much emphasised the importance of the organisation of knowledge; and, has tackled the question of organising information with such clarity as Piaget has done. His theory of equilibration may not be adequate, but it, at least, points to the problem of the acquisition of the organised knowledge.