This essay will explore cognitive development in children from roughly the age of 7 years old to adolescence. It will discuss theories relating to cognitive development and include evidence that psychologists have presented to validate these theories. It will draw upon the theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky regarding cognitive development. The essay will explore Piaget’s theory on the ‘concrete operational’ stage, which relates to children ages 7 to 11 and the ‘formal operational’ stage, which relates to children ages 12 to 16. The essay will also look at the three key aspects of Vygotsky’s theory: language, culture and the zone of proximal development.
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is divided four into different stages. The concrete operational stage refers children aged 7 to 11. The word operation concerns the “development of strategies and rules for interpreting and investigating the child’s world” (Oakley, 2004). The word concrete refers to “the child’s ability to apply these strategies to things that are present” (Oakley, 2004). During this stage Piaget discusses conservation, which is the realisation that quantity does not change when nothing has been added or taken away from an object or group of objects, even of there is changes in the form. In this stage the child is able to complete conservation of volume, number, length, weight, liquid, area and mass towards the end of this stage (Oakley, 2004). Piaget also follows the development of inductive logic in each stage, which is a process of using examples and observations to find a conclusion. In this stage the child begins to use their own experience to develop principles or law, which the child applies to the immediate problem (Oakley, 2004). He also discusses class inclusion which is the ability to classify objects into categories. With regards to class inclusion in this stage, the child recognises that categories include smaller sub-groups which are all part of the bigger category (Oakley, 2004). At this stage, the child is not deceived by superficial transformations in the liquid’s appearance in Piaget’s conversation tasks and the ability to comprehend that an action can be reversible allows the child to begin to comprehend concepts such as conservation of quantity (Gazzaniga, 2018). The child also begins to understand to much more of an extent, how other people view the world, and they feel about things (Gazzaniga, 2018). Although it is understood that this development is the beginning of logical thinking, Piaget believed that children at this stage can only reason about concrete things (Gazzaniga, 2018). They do not have the capability to reason abstractly, or hypothetically (Gazzaniga, 2018). I derived evidence of Piaget’s theory of the development of knowledge and concepts from interaction with the objects from the study demonstrated by Eysink, Dijksta and Kuper (2001), (Oakley, 2004). Their study involved students solving computer problems (Gazzaniga, 2018). Students who struggled were more successful when they were able to draw out pictures of the problem and then solve them (Gazzaniga, 2018).
Piaget’s formal operational stage relates to children of the ages 12 to 16. During this stage, the child’s reliance on concrete objects reduces and children have the ability to solve hypothetical problems or imagined problems they are unable to see (Oakley, 2004). This stage is defined by hypothetical deductive reasoning and systematic problem solving (Oakley, 2004). Hypothetical deductive reasoning refers to reasoning that uses detective logic (Oakley, 2004). Whereas systematic problem-solving means that the child has the ability to solve problems in a systematic and logical manner in this stage (Oakley, 2004). As (Oakley, 2004) summarizes, the child’s ability to think in an abstract manner occurs at this stage. Gazzaniga (2018) understood that this stage involves critical thinking, which is the kind of thinking described by the ability to develop a hypothesis through deductive logic. As explained by Shaffer/Kipp (2013), Piaget understood the transition between the concrete operational and the formal operational stages in children. The children in the concrete operational stage are limited as they are only capable of applying their logical thinking to physical or observable objects (Shaffer/Kipp, 2013). Whereas children in the formal operational stage progress to be able to demonstrate mental actions on ideas and propositions (Shaffer/Kipp, 2013). For evidence to support Piaget’s theory, Piaget and Inhelder (1956) carried out tests to prove this theory. They presented children with the four-beaker problem (Oakley, 2004). The four beakers were filled with odourless and colourless liquid, the children had to work out which combination of liquids turned the liquid yellow (Oakley, 2004). The results showed the children in the concrete operational stage used a random problem-solving technique and the children in the formal operational stage used a systematic approach, these results align with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (Oakley, 2004).
Vygotsky took a different approach with his theory on cognitive development in children and adolescent. Vygotsky believed that social influences were more important in regards do the children’s progression. There are three key factors to his theory: language, culture and the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky viewed language as a significant part of the child’s learning process (Oakley, 2004). He understood that we encrypt and represent our world through language and that language is an important system in which we communicate and use as a cultural tool (Oakley, 2004). Vygotsky had different stages for language development. Children aged 7 to adulthood came under the stage called ‘Inner Speech’ (Oakley, 2004). This inner speech takes place only in the mind and is used to guide behaviour (Oakley, 2004). Vygotsky believed that once this stage is accomplished, the individual can engage in all types of higher mental functions (Oakley, 2004). An example of inner speech is when an adolescence might be at a friend’s house watching television, and they have an inner conversation with themselves about when to do their homework over the weekend. This conversation directs their behaviour and prepares them for the task (Oakley, 2004). The next aspect of Vygotsky’s theory is culture. The child’s cognitive progression both reflects and internalises the culture to which they belong (Oakley, 2004). Vygotsky explained that the first culture influences learning as children learn through interactions with others and their environment (Oakley, 2004). The child then develops through the “symbolic representations” of the child’s culture, which can be art, language, play or songs (Oakley, 2004, page 38). It is clear that culture provides a foundation in which the child constructs meaning (Oakley, 2004). The zone of proximal development means “the distance between the actual development level and the potential level of the child” (Oakley, 2004, page 41). Vygotsky understood that each child had the ability to reach their potential level through the support and guidance of experienced others (Oakley, 2004). The experienced or expert other plays a vital part in this theory, this person can be a teacher, parent or guardian (Oakley, 2004). This person guides the child by offering advice and different methods to the child to enable them to achieve something outside their own levels of ability (Oakley, 2004). Therefore, the child reaches outside their actual level and pushes towards their potential level. Hasse (2001) found in a study that if students are encouraged to reach their potential level when supported by expert staff, and if the actual level of development of expert staff was equal to the student’s potential level (Oakley, 2004). This study supports Vygotsky’s theory with regards to the zone of proximal development.
This essay discussed the theories by Piaget and Vygotsky that referred to cognitive development in children aged 7 to adolescence. The essay also supports these theories by including substantial studies demonstrated by psychologists.