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Piaget And Vygotsky

Everyday life is characterized by conscious purpose. From reaching for food to
designing an experiment, our actions are directed at goals. This purpose reveals
itself partly in our conscious awareness and partly in the organization of our
thoughts and actions. Cognition is the process involved in thinking and mental
activity, such as attention, memory and problem solving. Much past and present
theory has emphasized the parallels between the articulated prepositional
structure of language and the structure of an internal code or language of
thought. In this paper I will discuss language and cognition and two famous
theorist who were both influential in forming a more scientific approach to
analyzing the process of cognitive development. Jean Piaget There are those that
say that Jean Piaget was the first to take children`s thinking seriously.

Although Piaget never thought of himself as a child psychologist his real
interest was epistemology, the theory of knowledge, which, like physics, was
considered a branch of philosophy until Piaget came along and made it a science
(2000). Children and their reasoning process fascinated Piaget. He began to
suspect that observing how the child`s mind develops might discover the key to
human knowledge. Piaget`s insight opened a new window into the inner workings of
the mind. Jean Piaget has made major theoretical and practical contributions to
our understanding of the origins and evolution of knowledge. Stages of Childhood
Development In his work Piaget identified stages of mental growth. He theorized
that all children progressed through stages of cognitive development. He
discovered that children think and reason differently at different periods in
their lives. Piaget believed that everyone passed through a sequence of four
qualitatively distinct stages. They are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete
operational and formal operational. In the sensorimotor stage, occurring from
birth to age 2, the child is concerned with gaining motor control and learning
about physical objects. This stage promotes that thought is based primarily on
action. Every time an infant does any action such as holding a bottle or
learning to turn over, they are learning more about their bodies and how it
relates to them and their environment. Piaget maintains that there are six
sub-stages in the sensorimotor stage although children pass through three major
achievements. In the preoperational stage, from ages 2 to 7, the child is
preoccupied with verbal skills. At this point the child can name objects and
reason intuitively. Piaget has divided this stage into the preoperational phase
and the intuitive phase. In the preoperational phase children use language and
try to make sense of the world but have a much less sophisticated mode of
thought than adults. They need to test thoughts with reality on a daily basis
and do not appear to be able to learn from generalizations made by adults. In
the intuitive phase the child slowly moves away from drawing conclusions based
solely on concrete experiences with objects. However, the conclusions drawn are
based on rather vague impressions and perceptual judgments. It becomes possible
to carry on a conversation with a child. Children develop the ability to
classify objects on the basis of different criteria. At this stage children
learn to count and use the concept of numbers. In the concrete operational
stage, from ages 7 to 12, the child begins to deal with abstract concepts such
as numbers and relationships. It is here that children learn mastery of classes,
relations, numbers and how to reason. In this stage a person can do mental
operations but only with real concrete objects, events or situations. Logical
reasons are understood. For example, a concrete operational person can
understand the need to go to bed early when it is necessary to rise early the
next morning. A pre-operational child, on the other hand, does not understand
this logic and substitutes the psychological reason, “I want to stay up.

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Finally, in the formal operational stage, age 12 to 15, the child begins to
reason logically and systematically. The last stage deals with the mastery of
thought (Evans, 1973). A formal operational thinker can do abstract thinking and
starts to enjoy abstract thought. The formal operational thinker is able to
think ahead to plan the solution path. Finally, the formal operational person is
capable of meta-cognition, that is, thinking about thinking. A central component
of Piaget`s developmental theory of learning and thinking is that both involve
the participation of the learner. Knowledge is not merely transmitted verbally
but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner. Piaget asserted that
for a child to know and construct knowledge of the world the child must act on
objects and it is this action that provides knowledge of those objects (Sigel,
1977). The ability to learn any cognitive content is always related to their
stage of intellectual development. Children who are at a certain stage cannot be
taught the concepts of a higher stage. Intellectual growth involves three
fundamental processes: assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration.

Assimilation involves the incorporation of new events into pre-existing
cognitive structures. Accommodation means existing structures change to
accommodate to the new information. This dual process,
assimilation-accommodation, enables the child to form schema. Equilibration
involves the person striking a balance between himself and the environment,
between assimilation and accommodation. When a child experiences a new event,
disequilibrium sets in until he is able to assimilate and accommodate the new
information and thus attain equilibrium. There are many types of equilibrium
between assimilation and accommodation that vary with the levels of development
and the problems to be solved. For Piaget, equilibration is the major factor in
explaining why some children advance more quickly in the development of logical
intelligence than do others (Lavatelli, 1973 pg 40). About Lev Vygotsky Lev
Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and philosopher in the 1930`s, is most often
associated with the social constructivist theory. He emphasizes the influences
of cultural and social contexts in learning and supports a discovery model of
learning. This type of model places the teacher in an active role while the
students` mental abilities develop naturally through various paths of discovery.

He argued for the inclusion within psychology of the study of consciousness,
however he rejected introspection as a method. He maintained that a study of the
mind, as opposed to just behavior, was necessary to distinguish human beings
from lower animals. There are some interesting facts about Lev Vygotsky. One
fact is that he was one of the earliest critics of Piaget’s theory. Another fact
is that he died at age thirty-three from tuberculosis cutting his career short.

And finally, his works were banned in Russia until after his death because of
his reference to western culture. Piaget`s theories maintained that there could
be no understanding of a child’s development if there was no understanding of
the culture that child was raised under. He believed that thinking patterns are
not totally due to our biology; they are products of our interactions in
cultural situations and other social activities. He believed that the history of
the child and the history of the child’s culture must be understood to
understand the child. That cognitive development occurs when children
internalize the tools that are taught through the social interactions. It is
through social activities that children learn cultural tools and social
inventions. These include language, counting systems, writing, art, and music.

Vygotsky maintained that adults have the responsibility to share their greater
collective knowledge with the younger generations. Vygotsky`s theories had three
general claims: (a) The claim that human social and psychological processes are
fundamentally shaped by cultural tools; (b) The claim that higher mental
functioning in the individual emerges out of social processes; and (c) the
developmental method Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the concept
that the potential of the child is limited to a specific time span. According to
Vygotsky`s theory the Zone of Proximal Development problem-solving skills of
tasks can be placed into three categories. These are as follows: (a) those
performed independently by the student; (b) those that cannot be performed even
with help; and (c) those that fall between the two extremes, the tasks that can
be performed with help from others. Vygotsky`s ZPD emphasizes his belief that
learning is, fundamentally, a socially mediated activity. There are two parts to
ZPD, scaffolding and subjectivity. Scaffolding is the help given to a child that
supports the child-s learning. Scaffolding is similar to scaffolding
around a building; it can be taken away after the need for it has ended. When a
child is shown how to do something and, can now, accomplish this task on its
own. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is the arrival at a point of shared
understanding, especially when two individuals have had differing viewpoints on
an issue. The people around the student greatly affect the way he or she sees
the world. The type and quality of these tools (i.e. people) surrounding the
child greatly determine the pattern and rate of development of the child.

Arguments and Comparisons Egocentric speech is contrasted with socialized
speech. In other words it is non-social, non-communicative to others. It is
spoken for the sake of saying it. It is usually found in three to five year
olds. Egocentric speech is split into three categories. They are repetition,
monologue (thinking aloud) and dual/collective monologue. Vygotsky argues that
speech moves from communicative ?social speech¦ to inner egocentric
speech. Piaget proposes the opposite. He believes that children begin by voicing
a personal dialogue and move to social speech. Piaget argues that egocentric
speech goes away with maturity while Vygotsky claims that it becomes
internalized as an adult. Vygotsky found that a child spoke egocentrically when
he was grasping or remedying a situation. Comparisons of Piaget (PG) and
Vygotsky (VG) beliefs on egocentric speech are as follows: (PG)- Development of
thinking- Language moves from individual to social. (VG)-Development of
thinking- Language moves from the social to the individual. (PG)-
Egocentric Speech is simply an accompaniment to a child-s actions (VG)-
Egocentric speech is not accompaniment: it helps child to reason (PG)-
Egocentric speech appears first, dies out and is replaced by socialized speech
(VG) – Egocentric speech is not first: it gives voice to internalized
?social¦ or ?inner¦ speech. Egocentric speech doesn-t
wither; it evolves upwards into inner speech (PG) – Three key observations about
egocentric speech T It is audible and not whispered T It occurs when
a child thinks the others understand his egocentric talk T It occurs when
children act together on a task, not alone (VG)- His experiments seriously
challenged Piaget-s three key observations about egocentric speech In
Thought and Language, Vygotsky (1962) analyzed Piaget’s work. Vygotsky believed
that Piaget had developed a clinical method that revolutionized the study of
children’s language and thought. However, Vygotsky also asserted that there were
some flaws in Piaget’s methods. Piaget combined psychology and philosophy even
though he tried to avoid theorizing. He overlooked the role of the child’s
activity with relation to thought processes. Vygotsky also disagreed with
Piaget’s assumption that development could not be impeded or accelerated through
instruction. In summary, Vygotsky was critical of Piaget’s assumption that
developmental growth was independent of experience and based on a universal
characteristic of stages. Vygotsky believed that intellectual development was
continually evolving without an end point and not completed in stages as Piaget
theorized. Although Vygotsky was critical of Piaget, he realized the importance
of the information that Piaget gathered. In spite of his criticisms, Vygotsky
built his educational theories on the strengths of Piaget’s.

Evans, R. (1973). Jean Piaget: The Man and His Ideas. New York: E. P. Dutton
& Co., Inc Lavatelli, C. (1973). Piaget`s Theory Applied to an Early
Childhood Curriculum. Boston: American Science and Engineering, Inc. Piaget,
Jean, (2000) Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia
1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Vygotsky, Lev (1962).

Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press


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