Cognitive Development Essay - Part 2

Cognitive Development


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Cognitive development is the construction of a number of processes which have been said to include; remembering, problem solving and decision making - Cognitive Development Essay introduction. Cognitive development includes processes and activities like; information processing, memory, reasoning, language development and intelligence.

 When it comes to cognitive development two people stand head and shoulders above the rest on how to go about developing it. These are Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky who came up with the two major theories which provide an exploration and explain cognitive development.

            This paper will analyze the ideologies of these two pioneers by providing a breakdown of what is set out in their specific theories of development that is Social Cultural theory and theory of Cognitive Development by Vygotsky and Piaget respectively. On the other hand believed that cognitive development was achieved through social interaction and this made up the primary source of cognition and behavior.

This paper will define and analyze the theories advanced by these two people and also look at how their works have affected future scholars in their research and pursuit of understanding what cognitive development is and what would be the best way to facilitate it. It will also embark on a mission to establish how the works of these two individuals have been interpreted by different scholars and researchers.

Most of those who have done research into cognitive development have based their work on the theories advanced by either Vygotsky or Piaget.

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s theory was based on how a child’s intelligence develops and this he believed was attained by interaction with the world. His main area of interest was to understand how an organism adapts to its environment, this to him this process of understanding was what he referred to as intelligence. He believed that one’s adaptation to the environment was controlled through mental organizations called schemes and this was what the individual used to represent the world and designate action. He went further to say that adaptation is a biological drive which was used to obtain a balance between schemes and the environment.

His theory set out that this growth of intelligence took place in four parts and this was due to self-motivated action as he believed that a child cannot undertake a task unless he/she is psychologically mature to do so. Piaget believed that intelligence is a basic life form and it helps one to adapt to his/ser environment.

According to Piaget, infants are born with schemes which were operational at birth and they were called “reflexes” and that they are used to adapt to the environment. The reflexes were however quickly replaced with constructed schemes.

He set out that there are two processes which every individual in their attempt to adapt and these were; assimilation and accommodation and that they are used simultaneously through out one’s life as they adapt to the environment.

Assimilation refers to the process by which the environment is used or transformed so as to fit into the preexisting structures.

            Accommodation on the other hand is the process by which cognitive structures are changed in order to accept something from the environment.

As schemes become increasingly more and more complex they are termed structures. As one’s structures become more complex, they are organized in a more specific manner.

He believed that a child’s thinking developed at certain stage at which a new thinking ability begins and this results in a host of new capabilities.

These four stages are;

·   Sensori-motor (birth and 2 years). At this first stage they infant is trying to make sense of the world. The child is able to coordinate their visual and tactile information which they receive and they slowly try to connect this with their motor skills. The child develops physically and develops mobility which in turn allows the child to begin developing new intellectual skills.

·   Pre-operational (2-7 years). At this stage the child learns to communicate through symbols and his language matures and they are also able to represent objects by images and works. At this point the child is egocentric as they only see the world from their perspective only and also classifies objects by a single distinguishing feature.

·   Concrete operational (7-11 years). Here a child is capable of logical thinking and distinguishes objects using different features. At this stage the child moves away from the egocentric mindset and operational thinking develops.

·   Formal operational (11 years and over). At this stage the child can think about abstract propositions in a logical manner.

            Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has received praise for a number of reasons;

·         It is considered to have founded the discipline we know today as cognitive development.

·         The theory did not only describe but also explained the process of development.

·         It is considered to have brought to the fore the fact that children are curious and this enables them to contribute to their own development.

·         Piaget asked a lot of questions in the process of explaining his theory and this literally drew thousands of researchers who came in to try and find answers to the questions he posed.

·         His elaborate description of intellectual development has painted a clear picture of how children of different ages think.

            Piaget’s theory of cognitive development has faced some criticism

·         Piaget criticized himself when he stated that development is not always smooth though in his theory he portrayed it as a smooth process.

·         His stage by stage by stage development theory was also criticized as it was proved that some unpredictable gaps had been found to appear in the development progression. Therefore what he set out as the activity in a particular stage could only be set out as an approximation.

·         His theory has also given little attention to the role played by social and cultural influences in the development process.

·         The theory also failed to distinguish between competence from performance as well as underestimating the capability of developing minds.

Vygotsky’s Social Cultural Theory

Vygotsky believed that learning was a social process and that human intelligence originates from society and culture. His major theme was that social interaction among children played a very big part in the acquisition of knowledge and this interaction was with; teachers, parents and more competent peers or associates.

He believed that the every form of learning takes place in two levels;

First he believed that through interaction with other people in society some knowledge was acquired and was then integrated into that individual’s brain. This was based on his belief that infants are born with few elementary mental functions namely; attention, sensation, perception and memory. It is this functions that were transformed through social interaction and culture into more sophisticated mental processes which he called higher mental functions.

Vygotsky believed that every part of a child’s cultural development appeared in two parts which are; the social level which comes first and this is followed by the individual level. He believed that what he called the higher function originated gradually from the actual relationship between the individuals.

            The second aspect of Vygotsky’s theory is that cognitive development is only achievable in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD refers to a concept which establishes the difference between what a leaner can learn or do without any form of assistance and compares this with what the same learner can do when provided with assistance. In support of this concept, Vygotsky argued that there are some things that a child will be able to learn by themselves and this is by observation of what an adult or any other person around them is doing. Vygotsky put in place strategies which educator and teacher could use in order to get the maximum result from ZPD and these are;

·         Scaffolding: under this method the teachers would be required to show the children how they would go about solving a problem by giving them an example and this was to be done on a step by step basis to avoid creating a sense of frustration in children while at the same time expanding their base of knowledge.

·         Reciprocal Teaching: under this method the teacher changes the mode of teaching from a one way activity to a two way activity as they create an environment in which children can participate in the teaching process. This applies strategy in which the children find themselves in positions in which they can lead discussions and they also have an opportunity to give instructions.

The zone of proximal development basically proposed the ideology that when a child is given some form of assistance the first time he/she is solving a problem then the next time they encounter a problem is a similar magnitude they can be able to solve it on their won, (Levykh, 2008).

When it came to matters of education, Vygotsky was of the belief that education should seek to create situation, preferably socially rich, for child to learn in their ZPD and thus they learn by themselves. He also believed that the best way to measure a child’s intelligence was not by giving them a test but by examining the child’s ability to solve problems with and without adult assistance.

Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory has been widely cited by educators even at present in their attempts to formulate the best plan through they can access their students’ actual potential. Vygotsky’s belief that improving social interaction could not only lead to an increase in knowledge but could also influence and even change a child’s behavior and way of thinking.

Social Cultural Theory vs. Theory of Cognitive development

Though some researchers have pitted Vygotsky’s and Piaget’s theories against each other, there is evidence that the two agreed on a number of issues. For example Piaget in one of his works gone on to acknowledge that social factors have a part to play in cognitive development.

These notwithstanding their theories have substantial differences like;

·         Whereas Vygotsky’s theory states that cognitive development varies across cultures, Piaget proposes that cognitive development is mostly universal across cultures.

·         Vygotsky believes that cognitive development stems from social interaction whereas Piaget believes that it originates from independent explorations.

·         Vygotsky believes that social processes become individual-physiological processes, Piaget believes that individual (egocentric) processes become social processes.

·         Vygotsky believes that adults are important as change agents, Piaget believes that peers are important as change agents.

Other Research on Cognitive Development

Ever since Vygotsky and Piaget pioneered in the research on cognitive development, other people have come, some were former students of the two. These people done more research though almost all of them derive their ideas from either Piaget or Vygotsky theory of cognitive development.

Constance Kamii

Constance Kamii studied under Jean Piaget on an on and off basis and it was with the knowledge acquired while learning that she was able to develop an early childhood curriculum. She based her whole curriculum on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. She used the knowledge to develop an arithmetic program which proposed was better than the traditional ones which as she believed the 3R’s teaching method was harmful to learning mathematics.

            Kamii’s proposals of a new method of teaching mathematics went a long way as the ideas she developed in her book were used by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She went on to challenge the teaching of procedural knowledge in mathematics as research using assessments and interviews of children taught using this method did not understand the concepts about place value and number magnitude.

            The biggest criticism to this approach is that it will take a lot of time before a child can finally come round to understanding things, (Kamii, 1973).

William Crain

Crain has criticized the United States government for introducing a new form of public education which increasingly becoming repressive. The Federal government has resulted to schools relying on standardized tests and scripted teaching.

He feels that the climate in public schools has turned into an authoritarian one and it is at this point that he appreciates Piaget’s thoughts on education deeming the to be of value. In his essay, Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society and Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, he discusses Piaget’s view of intellectual development and how homework is impeding the development of American children.

            Crain highlights the main theme of Piaget’s research which is, children develop as a result of their interest and curiosity. He goes on to contrast this with the fact that though children have spontaneous interests which vary, these are mostly ignored. Crain raises concern that a new problem is cropping up and this is going along way into impeding the development of children.

The problem is homework and schools have been increasing the amount of homework which is being given to children and this turns out to be very tiring and burdensome and this is frequently destroying the interests of the children. He takes note of the fact that children are more and more losing their love for books. This is because the homework they have is so much that they don’t have time to read on their topics of interest. He acknowledges the fact the children are growing to associate reading with homework which they already view as a form of punishment. They are therefore slowly and gradually loosing their curiosity and interest in other things.

He also talks about how teachers have disregarded the basic ideology behind Piaget’s theory as they have taken away most of the activities that provide an environment for a child to learn things on their own. Crain is therefore a proponent of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, (Crain, 2007).


From the fore going discussions it is clearly evident that when it comes to cognitive development two theories are the ones most commonly considered. The theories are either applied independently or in some cases together. This not withstanding it is evident that Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is the most commonly preferred among most institutions and scholars. It is therefore important to have in mind what is the best way to facilitate a child’s cognitive development as this play and reflects in the child’s academic performance.


Crain, W. (2007). “Homework and the freedom to think: A Piagetian perspective”. Encounter: Education For Meaning And Social Justice, 20(4), 14-19.

Kamii, C. 1973. Psychological principles derived from Piaget’s theory: Relevance for

educational practice. In Piaget in the classroom, edited by M. Schweber and J.Raph. New York: Basic Books.

Levykh, M.G. (2008). “The Effective Establisment and Maintenance of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development”. Educational Theory, 5(1), 83-101.


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