Theories of cognitive development: Assignment one. ‘Compare and contrast the cognitive theories of the theorists – Piaget, Vygotsky & Bruner, criticising the basis of each theory’ This essay will be comparing and contrasting the cognitive theories and approaches of Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. The cognitive approach is based on how as individuals process information, past experiences, memory and perception. A definition of cognition is “how we consider information that we perceive from our senses and formulate a response” (Doherty & Hughes 2009).
Previously, cognition was generalised as the involvement of mental structures and processes in which is used to gain knowledge. However, more modern views to the cognitive theory associate it with an emotional state. The three theorists that this essay will be looking in to are Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky. Bruner believed that interactions had to be linked with a social context, and that there was no one formula applicable to all.
Piaget believed that children learned about the world through exploration of it, and Vygotsky believed that development was at its highest when children were amongst more skilled and experienced learners There are some clear similarities and differences between the three theorists.
Starting with Piaget. Piaget saw cognitive development from a biological perspective, and believed that children went through different stages of cognitive development based on fixed ages and believed in children learning through action and exploration of their environment (Cherry 2008).
In Piaget’s theory, cognitive development is represented as unfolding in four stages. From 0-2 years was the sensori-motor stage, which states that babies and very young infants learn through their senses and actions. From 2-7 years was the pre-operational stage, which is understood as young children learning through experiences with the objects in their environments and symbols (Cherry 2008). Next from 7-11 was the concrete operational stage in which he believed that the children would access information to make sense of the environment around them.
The final stage in Piaget’s theory was the formal operations stage. This was from 11 years and upwards, and was about how they now learn to make use of abstract thinking (Cherry 2008). Whilst Piaget was a highly respected theorist, there were heavy criticisms about his work and findings. It has been argued that children at a variety of ages are more cognitively developed than what Piaget proposed; (Siegler & Alibali 2005). Another argument towards Piaget’s work was that he believed young children to have poorly developed memories.
However, Bhatt and Rovee-Collier (1996) study using a piece of string attached to a baby’s leg while lying in a cot with a mobile suspended overheard found that 3 month old baby’s remember up to a week later. One of the biggest criticisms to his work was the appearance of stages of cognitive development. Whilst Piaget strongly believed that cognitive development appears in stages as previously discussed, and is largely unaffected by external factors. More common studies have shown more continuity and that the stages are not so rigid, and that the cognitive abilities can be altered by training and experience. (Siegler & Alibali 2005).
Another criticism is that Piaget believed that social context had little contribution towards cognitive development. The criticism against this is that Piaget ignores social and emotional contributions and that Piaget’s theories are too independent and isolated (Meadows,1995). There are a number of other criticisms about Piaget’s work such as his views on culture, egocentrism, imitation and theory of mind. However, one of the biggest criticisms of his work is that Piaget, while carrying out all of his research and studies, actually used his own three children rather than subjects in which he had no emotional attachment towards.
This has been heavily criticised as his work being biased towards how he views his own children. Vygotsky’s social-constructivist approach offered an alternative to Piaget between 1920 and 1930, however his work did not appear in English until the 1960s. The principle behind his theory argues that thinking and learning is a socially constructed process, and is the result of interactions, while Piaget saw cognitive development in the child as an individual endeavour. Vygotsky was a strong believer in the social and environmental forces.
Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky did not advocate stages (Berger 2009). Vygotsky was a strong believer in the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more able peers” (Vygotsky,1978). It can be described as a state of developmental readiness. Another concept that Vygotsky was a strong believer in was scaffolding. Scaffolding is when help is provided to children at significant points and hen gradually removed as the child succeeds. For example, a young child first learning to walk may at first have both their hands help and pulled upwards by one of their parents. As they learn how to support their own weight, the parent may hold their hands with a slightly looser grip. Then the parent may progress on to just holding one hand, and the finally nothing, so that the child can walk on its own. The progression of different levels of help is scaffolding, and this can regularly be seen throughout child development. Another theory of Vygotsky was co-operative learning.
It was believed that by placing pupils in groups in the classroom, it will greatly promote children’s interactions with one another in a positive manner. Vygotsky believed that if an individual were to spend ten minutes observing well structured and organised group work, they would see and hear children at any of these tables helping each other. Learning from each other without the aid of a teacher. Groups of children with varying degrees of expertise have been found to stimulate learning in each other (Doymus,2008) Vygotsky’s theory, as with any other theory, does have some shortcomings.
While Vygotsky tends to focus on language, it has been said that there is a lack of emphasis and research on perceptual and motor capacities, and how these can influence cognitive change. Also, there is also an almost total focus on cultural factors that influence development, but little in the original theory on development in other groups besides the European middle classes. As with Piaget, there is no full explanation for developmental problems and individual differences.
Another issue with Vygotsky’s theory on cognitive development is that there is little about how group dynamics and gender in collaborative learning affect development and learning. There is also very little scientific evidence to support the concepts described in Vygotsky’s theory (Thomas, 2000) Despite these criticisms, Vygotsky has provided a theory in which a meaningful social context has been proven in the development of learning. Vygotsky and Piaget are commonly viewed as rival theorists with two competing theories.
However, both the theorists were strong advocates for students having active participating in their learning (Doherty & Hughes 2009). Vygotsky believed that learning is social, whereas Piaget believed it more to be solitary. Piaget also believed that development is driven by ‘conflict between stages’ whereas Vygotsky’s theory is that development is really influenced by input from others (Macarelli 2006). Another opposing view between the two theorists is how context affects cognitive development.
While Piaget believed that context plays no part in development and that it is universally the same regardless of context, Vygotsky believed that development does vary strongly based on social and cultural context. Another difference in the two theories of Vygotsky and Piaget is the developmental stages. While Piaget believed in them and used them as a strong part of his research, Vygotsky did not believe in stages in cognitive development. With Vygotksky’s sociocultural view, he believed that children worked with others to build knowledge (Macarelli 2006).
This was as opposed to Piaget’s theory in which children actually acquire knowledge through their own explorations. The third and most recent cognitive theorist was Jerome Bruner. Bruner had a social constructivist theory, which was influenced by Vygotsky. Bruner argued that the social environment and our social interactions in particular (Lefrancois 2006). Although he was critical of Piaget’s work, the two theorists did share some similarities in their theories. Bruner believed that learning is an active process, and that being naturally curious, children with adapt to their environment by interacting with it.
Bruner also shared the view that children’s cognitive structures develop over time and become more and more complex. However, Bruner did differ from Piaget in the importance that he placed on language, and strongly agreed with Vygotsky in the belief that scaffolding allows children to move to higher levels of thinking (Lefrancois 2006). Bruner’s theory suggested that there were three modes of developments in which children gain their knowledge and understanding of the world. Rather than age related stages (like Piaget), the modes of representation were not so tightly bound together.
The first stage was the enactive mode. The enactive mode is represented through action so that by interacting with their environment, children construct patterns of motor behaviour appropriate to their present needs (McLeod 2008). For example, in the form of a movement as a muscle memory, a baby may remember the action of shaking a rattle. Next up is the iconic mode. This is where information is stored visually in the form of images; the thinker builds up mental images from past experiences and responds to what is perceived.
The last mode is the symbolic mode; this is where information is stored in the form of a code or symbol, such as language (McLeod 2008). Bruner believed that the purpose of education was not to impart knowledge, but instead to assist with a child’s problem solving and thinking skills which can then be transferred to a range of situations (McKoy 2010). One of Bruner’s theories, the spiral-curriculum was that a child of any developmental level is capable of understanding is capable of understanding complex information as long as it is developmentally appropriate.
This is opposed to Piaget’s notion of readiness. As stated previously, Bruner’s work was heavily influenced by Vygotsky. Both of the theorists strongly emphasise a child’s environment, especially the social aspect, far more than Piaget did. Both also stated that adults should play an active role in assisting the child’s learning. Bruner and Vygotsky also both emphasised the social aspect of learning, with both believing in the concept of scaffolding. With Bruner and Piaget, whilst there are some similarities there were differences.
Although Bruner did believe in stages of cognitive development, he didn’t see them as representing different separate modes of thought at different times in a child’s development, unlike Piaget. Some of the points Bruner and Piaget did agree on however were that children were actually pre-adapted to learning. That children do have a natural curiosity. They also shared the theory that children are active participants in the learning process. They also both theorised that children’s cognitive structures develop over time. To conclude, it is obvious that Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner all had both similarities and differences in their theories.
While much of the work that Vygotsky and Bruner had many similarities in their work, mainly that children are products of their social and cultural environments, Piaget seemed to vary greatly in his views. Piaget did seem to strongly underestimate the importance of culture and social interaction. This could have been because his tasks were culturally biased and flawed, especially with the subjects being his own children. Vygotsky on the other hand, believed strongly in the role of language and social interactions, which he elieved helped the child to confirm existing knowledge and also add new information. Vygotsky believed that culture and social interaction were very important in cognitive development. Bruner also believed in the value of language and that without language, thought is limited, and that interaction with adults is vital to the child’s development. Bruner did believe in the stage theory, but his differed from Piaget’s theory. All three cognitive theorists were very influential in the development of children’s education; however Piaget seemed to have the most outdated theories.
Bibliography * Jonathan Doherty and Malcolm Hughes (2009). ‘Child Development – Theory and Practice 0-11’ * Robert Siegler and Martha Alibali (2005). ‘Children’s Thinking – 4th Edition’ * Ima Sample (2008). ‘Educational Psychology’ http://www. education. uiowa. edu/html/eportfolio/tep/07p075folder/Piaget_Vygotsky. htm * Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education – the encyclopaedia of informal education’ www. infed. org/thinkers/bruner. htm. * Kendra Cherry (2008) ‘Background and key concepts of Piaget’s theory’ – http://psychology. bout. com/od/piagetstheory/a/keyconcepts. htm * Lefrancois, G. R. (2006) ‘Theories of Human Learning’ – Thomas Higher Education * Saul Mcleod (2008) ‘Bruner’ – www. simplypsychology,org/bruner. html * Julie McKoy (2010) ‘Bruner’s Approach’ – www. physcoltron. org,uk – Microsoft Powerpoint Presentation * Berger K. S (2009) ‘The Developing Person through Childhood and Adolescence’- Worth Publishers * Sarah Macarelli (2006) ‘Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development’ – www. yahoo. com/vygotskys-theory-cognitive-development-34415. html? cat=72
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