After reading this article you will learn about Piaget’s contribution towards the construction of schemata.
Piaget’s observation was that mental “structures” developed out of the child’s physical experiences (actions). As Piaget puts it, the child gradually assembles a “construction of reality” in his mind, and uses it to interpret new events. The child experiences that an object appears, disappears and again reappears.
When the same phenomena are repeated an idea of disappearance and reappearance is formed as a residue of the series of experiences. As a person gains control of physical actions he also stores up an image or “scheme”—a residue of dozens of physical performances.
Psychologists use the Greek word “scheme” (plural, “schemata”) to describe the process of storing up concepts or images. A scheme is not just a label or a definition, it is “a cognitive structure which has reference to a class of similar action structures”. Schemata are not “photographic” records—they are a combination of muscular sensations that go with the actual action. Again, scheme may be partly verbal or abstract.
Scheme is used to interpret an event. When we interpret an event or an object we cannot interpret it if it is not “assimilated” first. We take in the object or event and operate on it mentally. Another process which operates in a scheme is “accommodation”.
When a child forms a mental structure in accordance with reality, he assimilates to form a schema; and when the existing scheme is used to build another new concept, the process of accommodation is being employed.
Accommodation is Piaget’s term for the process of modifying the existing scheme in order to arrive at a new one. Accommodation helps precise shaping of an object, which the child evolves in forming a correct concept. It is not always that straight experience forms a concept—a concept reaches perfection gradually. Even many basic concepts are acquired through reversible action.
As for example, a round disc, when tilted, produces a round image, then elliptical, and then round again. The child experiences hundreds of time this to occur when he plays with various round objects. Hence he forms a concept of an object independent of the sensory impressions of the present moment.
His schema acquires a dynamic element. Thus the schemata (for shapes or direction or movement etc.) make it possible to grasp verbal statement or a visual impression.
Psychologists do not look on schemata as innate properties of the nervous system. They develop out of experience. Accommodation plays a large part in the evolution of ideas— ideas of all sorts. Schema helps forming concepts of any kind from geometric concepts, number concepts to any mathematical concept; from physical force to musical harmony, from individual agony to social relations—all are developed in a similar manner according to Piaget’s theory. According to the Piagetian view ‘reversibility, re-visibility, flexibility, changeability from egocentric fixed ideas to cooperative and sharing ideas, are all included in schemata, so that the child as he develops now knows how to visualize alternatives’.
The process of developing a scheme then has these elements:
i. The person is repeatedly in situations that exemplify or embody the concept.
ii. The person acts on the objects and observes changes. He often acts in a back-and-forth manner, changing arrangements A to B and back to A again.
iii. The person begins to anticipate what will happen in such actions and reality confirms (or disconfirms) his expectations.
iv. The set of confirmed prediction rules is stored as a schema. ‘
v. When assimilation fails and some expectation is not confirmed, the person carries out further manipulations or transformations until familiarity generates a new schema.
The child develops innumerable schemata by the time he reaches 6 to 8 years of age by means of the conservation principles with respect to such concepts as number, weight, quantity or volume and shape.
The reversing process can be mastered by 8-year olds. Most of his concepts are concretized by now and are less dependent on perception. A mature schema occurs and, with the help of it, he can rectify his wrong acts based on interpretations of the visual impressions. When the child reaches what Piaget calls the stage of “concrete operational thought”, knowledge overrules perceptions.