Woodfolk, Winne, and Perry’s article in Educational Psychology presents Piaget’s theory of cognitive development as a complex process that is “much more than the addition of new facts and ideas to an existing store of information” (27). The authors demonstrate the idea that development occurs from a combination of maturation, activity, and social transmission (27). They also discuss Piaget’s ideas surrounding the tendency to organize thoughts, schemes as the “basic building blocks of thinking,” and adapting to new pieces of information (28). His four stages of cognitive development are: the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete-operational, and formal operations stages (29-36). These stages are important for teachers to consider when thinking about their teaching methodology, and the authors highlight the idea that “individuals construct their own understanding” (38-39). They then present arguments for and against accelerating the cognitive development in children (40). They conclude with a discussion of the “limitations of Piaget’s theory,” including the fact that the stages often overlap, children may be more intellectually advanced than initially believed, and the influence of cultural and social groups (39-42).
Although I agree that understanding Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is important for teachers, I also agree with the limitations the authors present. One limitation that they did not present, though, is that the “influences on development” (27) discussed primarily on the first page of the article also apply to other animals, such as gorillas/chimpanzees. What influencing factor, then, is particular to human beings? Is it just the prominence of one of Piaget’s proposals (social transmission would be my guess), or is it something intrinsically human, something that cannot be fully understood by mere observation?
I find it very interesting that Piaget’s final stage of development, the formal operations stage, requires the most creative thinking. It is obvious that young children are extremely creative in their thoughts and their solutions to problems. They are also more likely to play “make-believe” or to create alternate worlds in their minds, so to say that “the focus of thinking shifts … from what is to what might be” (35) may be disregarding this fact. Perhaps there is an inverted spectrum of imagination that peaks in early childhood and adulthood and is at its lowest point during adolescence. Does this reflect our approach to education? To paraphrase Ken Robbins, education essentially sucks the creativity out of the individual by asking children to learn certain things that measure up to a certain standardized ideal for learning.
This is also a problem with Bloom’s Taxonomy and theories of higher-order thinking. Young children need to explore and be imaginative with their thinking just as much as older children and adults. I agree that they may need to build up to that point, but to always ask young kindergarteners to count or to list, for example, eliminates the possibility to expand their minds by asking them to create, imagine, or consider multiple answers and possibilities in their thinking. With proper prompts, children can think just as critically as adults, in my opinion. This relates to the limitations that Woodfolk, Winne, and Perry present in relation to Piaget’s theory, not only in that children may be more advanced than initially believed, but also in the fact that the stages often overlap. I imagine it as a scatter plot, as opposed to a bar graph.
Should elementary teachers promote higher-order thinking and Bloom’s taxonomy in younger grades, or should they cater directly to Piaget’s learning theories in how they approach teaching young children? Does the latter apply to the loss in creative thinking that occurs in childhood?
Woolfolk, A.E. Winne, P.H. & Perry, N.E. (2000). Educational Pyschology. New York: Prentice Hall.