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Piaget Workshop Report (May 13, 14 - 2004)

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Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
May 13-14, 2004, Gandhi Study Center,
Conducted by Ms. L.S.Saraswati

Participants - P. Vidjea, A. Tamilvani, M. Mangai, T. Geetha. P. Kavitha, S. Devakumari, A. Ravi, V. Chandra Rani, K. Mageswaran, Indira Vijaysimha, B. Mariamma, R. Bhavani, Archana Chandra, Mogana, Anita, Shanmuga.

We started with a round of introductions where each of us mentioned our names, if and what we have heard about Jean Piaget and what we wanted to learn from the workshop. L. S. Saraswati introduced herself. She gave each one a slip of paper with adjectives like - innocent, ignorant, mischievous, messy, perseverance, noisy, intense etc and asked each one to pick 5 adjectives that they thought described children based on each one's experiences with children. Question then was - are these labeling, judgments or just observations? Most people said children were active, playful and questioning and exploring.

Each one of us was then asked to say what we considered or meant by cognitive development? Various answers came up. Some said development of five senses, understanding of everything around us, questioning ability, seeing similarities and differences etc. The group agreed upon the following definition - creating mental models which are increasingly closer to the approximation of reality, based on experiences and information from the 5 senses.

Who was Jean Piaget? What then did Piaget have to say about intellectual and cognitive development?

Jean Piaget was a Swiss philosopher, who observed children, even their seemingly wrong answers, and their processes of making sense of the world around them. He was a contemporary of Maria Montessori. Piaget's work revolutionized the American Education system. Piaget's approach is also termed as interactionist and constructivist (children create knowledge, through experiences and interactions).

Piaget identified 6 basic process that form a part of thinking -
  1. Sorting
  2. Classification 
  3. Seriation
  4. Number Construction
  5. Space Relations
  6. Temporal Relations
The participants then formed groups of 5 and each group was given a bag containing many small things like - seeds, bits of threads, buttons, stones, bottle caps, color sticks, empty matchboxes, etc, things that would perhaps we throw. Using this each group was to make something(s). Some groups made a rattle using a matchbox and stones/seeds, some made 2-d houses, garden, trees, railway lines, pyramids, necklaces etc etc. Each group then took one of the things that were made. For eg- in the first group took the rattle it had made and identified the processes that went towards making the rattle - sorting (getting a sense of what all was present in the bag), number construction (putting 1/2/3 stones/seeds inside the matchbox), spatial relations (too many stones/seeds will not produce noise, so one needed to have a sense of space available etc) and temporal relations (all these processes happened in time). In another group one made a necklace - here, there was sorting, classification (classifying the colors of the sticks, which ones to use etc), space relations and temporal relations.

What was interesting was that there that were very few things made which needed seriation (ordering based on height/length, shade etc). The reason for this was the materials provided did not give much scope for developing the concept and process of seriation. This further emphasized the fact that these processes of thinking can be only developed if materials/experiences are provided accordingly. Hence it is necessary to provide as many different types of materials as possible.

Another point made was that there are two sub-skills needed for classification - ability to identify a base for classifying and shifting a base for reclassifying. To develop the skill for shifting a base and reclassification, children need to be provided with materials can be classified using different attributes.

Each of the above 6 process develops in stages. These stages are termed as developmental stages by Piaget. Piaget identified 4 developmental stages by observing children and went on to give details of the level of development of each of the 6 processes of thinking in each of these stages. Responses of children to materials/experiences depend on which development stage they are currently in as related to a particular thinking process. Once we understand which stage they are in and connect their responses to these stages, one can prompt them towards better understanding.

Stages of development
  1. Sensory motor - (up to 18-24 months) - From birth to 4 months, the child has mainly reflex actions and not much of thinking. When certain actions occur repeatedly, they start forming a pattern and a habit. Initially for the child an object out of sight is out of mind. The first step of thinking is formation of a mental image. Through this the child develops a sense of permanence of the object even if it is out of sight. And they want to explore things/objects around them. During this stage, expression is mainly through imitative play. Whatever mental images are formed are expressed through imitative play. These are the first steps of learning. Every object will be inspected through all 5 senses (touched, made noise, tasted, seen and smelled)
  2. Pre-operational/pre-logical - (2-7 yrs) - The child starts forming rich mental images and symbolisms. These are expressed through symbolic/make-believe play, in which an object is used to depict something (perhaps a stick is used as a comb etc.) Spoken language starts developing. Towards end of this stage, can start classifying objects, but cannot shift bases, Seriation can be done with prominent differences, have a understanding of topological relations (in, out, up down, etc).
  3. Concrete-Operational (7-12)- The child develops the concepts of conservation of space, volume and preservation of objects. The last one is critical for number construction. The child also develops a sense of reversibility and one to one relations. Can also do some estimation and transform shapes. Mathematical operations are developed and the child can think of physically absent things that are based on vivid images. The child however things in concrete terms that in terms of ideas. This is evident while seriating/classifying objects, where an error has to seen physically before correcting it. She gave some examples of this.
  4. Formal Operational (12 onwards) - The child now can think beyond concrete reality and act based on this thinking. Reality becomes one of the possibilities of thinking. Abstract ideas can be understood, developed and communicated.
Time Relations and Stories - Stories play a very important role in developing temporal relations. Children go through various phases. Sometimes when they want to preserve/conserve the sequence of events, they may insist on saying the story in the same way as was done previously, small omissions/changes may be unacceptable. They may also tell the story in the sequence that they think is important etc.

She did several examples where she demonstrated children's responses wrt seriation of sticks according to length, classifying according to color/shapes, seriating according to volume etc.

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