The main theorists that we studied for cognitive development are Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, David Elkind, and Benjamin Bloom. Between all of these theorists, Jean Piaget created the most detailed outline of cognitive development for children. Piaget’s theory breaks cognitive development down into four different stages, which are defined both by age and the cognitive abilities/inabilities of the children. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage, which includes children ages zero to two. During this stage, Piaget states that children should develop reflexes, gain control over their own bodies, understand how their actions impact objects around them, gain the ability to organize a plan and follow through with it to achieve a goal, experiment with different things, and learn to do things through other ways aside from imitation. One of the most important achievements during this stage is object permanence, which means that children are beginning to understand that just because they cannot see an object does not mea that the object no longer exists. The next stage is the pre-operational stage, which lasts from age two to age seven. Piaget emphasizes the egocentrism of children at this stage, which prevents them from being able to achieve the conservation task or the three mountain task. After this comes the concrete operational stage, lasting from age seven to age eleven. In this stage the egocentrism decreases and children are able to achieve the conservation and three mountain task. They think more concretely and are not able to think hypothetically. The final stage is the formal operations stage, which is the final stage that children typically reach at age eleven. During this stage, children learn how to think abstractly and use hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Piaget’s various stages are important to understand as an educator because you must recognize what children are capable of doing at various ages to eliminate frustration for students and teachers.
Vygotsky’s theory focuses on transactionism, which is the belief the humans are shaped by their cultures and those around them and that culture, thought, and language all influence one another. He discusses the ideas of private speech and inner speech. Private speech occurs among younger children when they speak out loud to themselves. Inner speech is something that is achieved as the child develops in which they think to themselves instead of speaking it out loud. Vygostsky also outlines different zones: the zone of actual development, the zone of proximal development, and the zone of eventual development. Actual development focuses on the things the child is capable of on their own. They proximal development focuses on what children can achieve with the influence and guidance of a parent, teacher, or someone more knowledgeable in general. The eventual development is what the child is still incapable of by themselves or with the help of others. The zone that we focused on the most in class was the zone of proximal development because this is a large part of what being a teacher is about. As an educator, my purpose is to help children build on what they already know and eventually accomplish things without my help.
David Elkind focuses on egocentrism with his theory of adolescent egocentrism. He divides this into three types: the imaginary audience, the mythological fable, and the personal fable. With the imaginary audience, adolescents often believe that everyone is paying attention to and judging them when, in reality, no one is likely concerned with what they are doing. The mythological fable describes children telling themselves that something will not happen to them just because it seems unlikely. The personal fable occurs when a child believes that no one in their life is able to relate to them.
Benjamin Bloom outlines the process of learning something with Bloom’s Taxonomy. He claims that there are six levels that go into learning something. These levels are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. This means that children should start with memorizing certain concepts and then understand why and how these concepts are used. Next they must be able to apply this concept through a specific assignment and then analyze what they have done to recognize the different parts. Next they must evaluate what they have done and consider different ways to do it that might make improvements. Lastly, the child creates something that represents what they have learned and how they have made it the best it can be.
This TED talk by Alison Gopnik shows that children may develop a little more quickly in the cognitive area than many of these theorists believe. She also outlines how children are at different ages that are merely months apart. She emphasizes how much children can learn and grow in such a short period of time.