Applying Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Issues of Social Interaction and Intersubjectivity

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Applying Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development to the case


This essay will interpret the cognitive processes of the case of a K2 student who is called Andrew, recommend an intervention practice in promoting the cognitive development of the child and expound on the roles of the teacher.

Cognitive processes and stages

Schema for birds

Firstly, schema occurs. “Schema is a psychological structure to make sense of the experience in organized ways, which is changed with age”(Kail, 2016, Chapter 6). Children’s knowledge changes when they attempt to fathom new information as well as incorporate it with his existing knowledge (Parke & Gauvain, 2009). In the case of Andrew, his schema for birds is that birds are animals that can fly in the sky, so any flying object that have wings and is laid from eggs is an animal.

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Secondly, assimilation occurs in Andrew’s case. “Assimilation is the application of the existing scheme to a novel task” (Mitchell&Ziegler, 2007, P.25). Kail (2016) also stated that assimilation occurs when new experiences are promptly incorporated into a preschooler’s existing theories. It can be wrongly or correctly assimilated. In this case, Andrew used his current schemes to expound on the external world through assimilation. Piaget (as cited in Parke & Gauvain, 2009) stated that “ As children encounter new information, they actively try to fit it in with the knowledge they already possess” (P.274). Piaget has given a useful perspective to this case. Andrew thinks that butterflies are animals, which are the same type as birds. Since butterflies can fly in the sky, have wings, and are laid from eggs, it hence fits in Andrew‘s schema regarding birds. Yet, it is wrongly assimilated.


Moreover, disequilibrium occurs in Andrew’s case. “Disequilibrium is a state that generates a cognitive discomfort” (Kail, 2016, Chapter6). Kail(2016) found that “preschoolers always find the latest information does not match their current schemes, they hence always shift from assimilation to accommodation”(Chapter 6). In the case of Andrew, he looked puzzled and confused after the teacher told him butterfly was under the category of insect, he thus generates cognitive discomfort. He may have other experiences treating other animals as birds and may be told by adults that his concept is incorrect, he hence was wrong several times concerning this concept and had confused feelings. Therefore, disequilibrium occurs in this case.

Equilibration & Accommodation

Besides, equilibration occurs in the case of Andrew. “Equilibration is a process when disequilibrium occurs, children recognize their theories to return to a state of equilibrium” (Kail, 2016, Chapter 6). As aforementioned, Andrew felt puzzled and confused regarding the concept of butterflies and birds, disequilibrium thus occurs. In this case, so as to restore his balance, current but now-outmoded ways of thinking that any flying objects which have wings and are laid from eggs are animals, are replaced by a more advanced theory. “Equilibration functions to remove conflict and in the process generate new schemes that function on a higher cognitive level” (Mitchell & Ziegler, 2007, p.27 ), it is a valid perspective.

As a result, accommodation occurs in this case. “Accommodation means modifying a scheme to adapt it to a new application” (Mitchell&Ziegler, 2007, P.26). Piaget ( as cited in Mitchell & Ziegler, 2007) stated that children are stimulated to exercise their schemes, especially when they are lately acquired, and also there are lots of opportunities for accommodation to occur and for schemes to develop. In the case of Andrew, the butterfly, after being corrected by his teacher, is under the category of insects instead of animals. Andrew then adjusts his theory of birds to make it more precise as well as creating a new scheme. In terms of the modified schema, birds are animals with bigger bodies and plain wings, they are flying animals with feathers and hard beaks, they breathe with their lungs and trachea. In the aspect of the new schema, butterflies are insects with thin bodies and colorful wings, they are flying insects with no feathers and no beak, they breathe with a trachea solely due to not having lungs, which are different with birds.


Furthermore, equilibrium occurs eventually. “Equilibrium occurs when assimilation and accommodation in balance” (Kail, 2016, chapter 6). Piaget ( as cited in Mitchell & Ziegler, 2007) suggested that the best is when assimilation and accommodation contribute evenly. In this case, Andrew can mostly assimilate after doing the accommodation with regard to birds and butterflies. He will understand that butterflies do not belong to the category of animal and butterflies are not the same type as birds. He will be able to find that he can assimilate most experiences into his existing theories. Therefore, he will be in an equilibrium state.

Preoperational Stage


As Andrew is at the age of 5, he is in the preoperational stage. In the study of Berk (2013), preschoolers learn how to use symbols to represent objects, but it relates to the world solely through their own perspectives in the preoperational stage. In this case, Andrew is plagued with egocentrism. According to Mitchell and Ziegler (2007), Piaget used the word “egocentrism” in reference to a cognitive restriction that avoids children from seeing stuff from others’ perspectives. Mitchell and Ziegler hence stated that egocentrism means the child fails to fathom that people may hold different opinions from her or his own. In this case, Andrew felt puzzled and confused because of the difficulty in understanding the world from his teacher’s perspective, he cannot fathom why butterflies are not animals due to egocentrism. He believed that butterflies are the same type as birds, which are both under the category of animals. Yet, butterflies are insects instead of animals. Therefore, egocentrism occurs in the stage of Andrew.


Being a child in the preoperational stage, Andrew has the thinking of centration. Centration is a kind of thinking in egocentrism, it means “focusing children’s attention on only one dimension or characteristic of an object or situation” (Parke & Gauvai, 2009, P.289). In this case, Andrew thought that butterflies are animals because butterflies can fly in the sky and have wings. It shows that Andrew centered on the flying process of birds and butterflies but he failed to notice the breathing system and the appearance between birds and butterflies. Since Andrew solely focused on one aspect and ignore other aspects, he has the concept of centration.

An intervention practice

In order to promote Andrew’s cognitive development, it is suggested that the educator can adopt the intervention practice which is cooperative learning. The educator can offer a group task for the K2 students so as to see if they understand clearly and deeply regarding their modified and new schemes. Not only can the teacher provide pictures concerning birds and butterflies to let them distinguish together, but the educator can also ask Andrew and his group-mates questions in a more detailed way. For instance, the teacher can ask them to answer the features of birds and butterflies respectively. If Andrew and his classmates cannot answer the questions or cannot complete the group task correctly, the educator can hence give a verbal prompt or the occasional reminder to them instead of providing direct instruction solely. On the other hand, if they can answer the questions and distinguish the photos correctly in the group task, Andrew and his classmates will fathom the knowledge regarding birds and butterflies, this intervention practice will hence be successful to promote Andrew’s cognitive development.


The rationales of this intervention practice are letting students to share responsibility in a group to reach intersubjectivity in peers and resolve differences of opinion. During the practice, children will communicate with each other, intersubjectivity will be achieved. “According to Vygotsky, intersubjectivity means a mutual and shared understanding among participants in an activity” (Kail, 2016, P.182-186). Vygotsky (as cited in Kail, 2016) stated that preschoolers gain their cognitive enhancement when they collaborate with others who have the higher ability. By distinguishing the differences of butterflies and birds in the group, students who are more skilled and Andrew work together to find out which photos belong to birds and butterflies respectively, they hence share an understanding of the goal as well as roles in this activity. It demonstrates the concept of intersubjectivity and this interaction is guided by participation. Thus, it strengthens Andrew’s cognitive development.

Leigh (2015) found that preschoolers come to a cooperative understanding within the communication, they negotiate their opinions and utilize their knowledge to contribute to the interaction with group mates. In my opinion, Leigh has given a valid perspective. Through communicating and cooperating with other students in cooperative learning, social interaction is strengthened. Andrew can also learn how to resolve differences of perspectives in this activity. If some classmates are having different ideas, Andrew can learn to accept their opinions as well as being tolerant. Parke and Gauvain (2009) found that preschoolers learn not only to fathom others’ perspectives but also to distinguish with their own ideas. In my opinion, they have given a useful perspective. According to Zehnder (2002), Group interaction is a necessary factor in cooperative learning, and preschoolers' performance depends on their experiences in the group. I concur with her idea when students who have higher ability cooperate with students who have the lower ability in the group, both of them will gain social interaction and intersubjectivity, the more they interacted, the more beneficial to their cognitive development.

Therefore, this intervention practice aims to assist those K2 students to promote their cognitive development by sharing responsibility to reach intersubjectivity in peers as well as social interaction.

Roles of teacher

The role of the teacher is crucial in children’s learning. Firstly, the educator can adjust interventions to each child’s ZPD so as to guide preschoolers’ learning (Berk, 2009, P.264-271). Vygotsky (as cited in McLeod, 2019) stated that the ZPD refers to “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peer” (p.1). For instance, distinguishing one feature of birds and butterflies on his own is Andrew’s prior knowledge, with help from teachers and group mates, Andrew can be able to distinguish six features of birds and butterflies, the difference is 5 features and this is ZPD. The educator can utilize her role to enrich children’s knowledge by adjusting the interventions, such as pretend play and cooperative learning, the interventions should be appropriate to the children’s level. With the help of teachers and classmates who are more skilled, children will not feel confused and be afraid to learn, because they are not working alone by themselves.

Secondly, the teacher can utilize scaffolding to strengthen children’s ZPD and provide the appropriate amount of support. Educators’ suitable styles of scaffolding can strengthen the complexity of preschoolers’ thinking (Berk, 2009, P.264-271). Kail (2012) stated that “Scaffolding is a teaching style that matches the amount of assistance to the learner’s needs” (P.182-186). In this case, the educator gives verbal prompts and occasional reminders to students when they have difficulties in finishing the group task. For example, the teacher can ask them to think about the breathing system of the birds and butterflies respectively instead of giving the answers to children directly. Besides, teachers can also utilize questioning to develop children’s potential and assist them to think from different aspects.


To conclude, this essay is mainly expounded the cognitive processes of Andrew with regard to the child development stage, the intervention practice as well as the roles of the teacher. It is hoped that the aforementioned intervention practice is useful to enhance Andrew’s cognitive development.

(Total words: 1878)


  1. Berk, L.E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education/ Allyn & Bacon.
  2. Kail, R.V. (2016). Children and their development (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education.
  3. Leigh, A. J. (2015). Children teaching and learning in peer collaborative interactions (Master dissertation, The Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and State University). Retrieved from
  4. Mitchell, P., & Ziegler, F. (2007). Fundamentals of development: the psychology of childhood. USA and Canada: Psychology Press.
  5. McLeod, S. A. (2019). The Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from
  6. Parke, R. D., & Gauvain, M. (Eds.). (2009). Child psychology: a contemporary viewpoint. America, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  7. Zehnder, S.C. (2002). Student learning and cognition in cooperative small groups: towards a fourth metaphor of human learning (Doctoral dissertation, Edith Cowan University). Retrieved from
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Applying Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Issues of Social Interaction and Intersubjectivity. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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