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(We will discuss practical applications of Piaget's theory at each age level throughout the course - until adolescence, that is. Piaget assumed that by somewhere between eleven and fifteen we had all progressed cognitively about as far as we are going to get. Scary thought and you will be happy to know that many, if not most, developmental psychologists disagree with that aspect of Piaget's theory.)
Piaget made some important general points that are worth remembering as well.
1. Childen and adults think DIFFERENTLY. It is not just that the quantity
of information known by adults is different but the whole quality of their
thinking is different as well. Let me offer just a couple of examples:
| | | | | |
wet hungry tired change her feed her put her to bed
| | |_______________________________________^
These structures can be very complicated. In the example above, the children have learned MANY other things, ranging from "put parentheses around the mathematical operation to be performed first" to "stand in line and wait your turn".
3. According to Piaget, people are, by nature, motivated to understand their environment. To talk about motivating a child to learn is as silly to Piaget as talking about motivating a bird to fly. They just do it because it is part of their nature. Think about it, don't YOU feel uncomfortable when you are in a situation where you don't know what's going on? When what you know does not match up with new information, you are in the state of DISEQUILIBRIUM (literally, you feel off-balance). So, you either accommodate, that is, change how you think about the world to fit new information, or assimilate, which is taking in new information and fitting it in your existing scheme.
For example, before I moved to North Dakota, I had
never met an Indian person who hadn't been to college. The few Native Americans
I did meet were all people I was in college with or worked with, had all
attended Indian boarding schools, or been adopted by white families. Most
of them had never been to a reservation, at most they had heard their parents
or grandparents talk about living on the reservation. None of them spoke
any language but English. When I moved here, and heard people talking about
the low educational level of Native Americans, the high drop out rate in
schools on the reservations, and bilingual education, I was very confused.
So, I started reading books and articles, talked to some of the faculty
and graduate students I met who had grown up on reservations, and went
with some people who were kind enough to invite me to the reservations
where they had grown up. I had to change my scheme of what Native Americans
were like to accommodate this new information.
4. People are active learners, in more ways more than one. First, notice how I actively sought out information, to try to understand what people were talking about, rather than just accepting whatever information happened to present itself. Second, information is actively interpreted. Not everyone will receive the same "messages" even though they are exposed to the same stimuli. (I'll bet YOU wouldn't mistake a pheasant for a roadrunner. On the other hand, since I used to be a programmer, I could identify at a glance whether a program is written in BASIC, FORTRAN or C++).
These are just a few of the important points of Piaget's theory. As with Erikson, we will cover this theory in depth at each stage of development.
Just a comment - as important as Piaget's work is, I had to agree with the student's book review I once graded which said, "Reading this book was a lot like reading the instructions for assembling my stereo components". Personally, sentences like "Mine is a theory of epistemological ontology," convinced me that Piaget was a much better theorist than writer.
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