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Does Knowledge, Competence and Understanding Progress Through a Succession of Stages?

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Does Knowledge, Competence and Understanding Progress Through a Succession of Stages? When thinking about cognitive development from birth, psychologists generally have traditionally fallen into two categories, believing in the organismic viewpoint, or the mechanistic viewpoint. The organismic view of the world is that by continuous interaction with the environment, and people are proactively helping to shape their own development. It is this viewpoint that is concerned with stages of development, and it is important to note that progression to a higher stage is of course possible, but it is not possible to regress back to a lower stage. Each stage is different from the previous stage, as it has incorporated new ideas and values. Of course, psychologists who think in this way do not necessarily agree at what points in a persons life such stages would occur, or about the changes that occur. The Mechanistic viewpoint is held by behaviourists. The emphasis on this viewpoint is that cognitive development happens in a more continuous way, rather than at specific stages or points of time. This theory believes that people are not actively shaping their development, but have a passive role. Knowledge, competence and understanding can be seen to all be components of human intelligence, and intelligence is a way in which we can assess cognitive development in children (including knowledge, competence and understanding) Piaget is perhaps one of the best known example of the organismic viewpoint. ...read more.


Giving a child at each stage the same task can highlight the difference between this and the pre-operational stage by looking at the difference in the choices they make. For example the conservation tasks that Piaget gave to subjects. An example of a conservation task is showing a child 2 rows of sweets each containing the same number, but one row's sweets are very close together and the other row containing large spaces between the sweets. Whilst the child watches, one extra sweet is added to the row whose sweets are very close together. The child is then asked which row they would prefer to have. A pre-operational child will choose the row that looks the longest, even though it has fewer sweets. They will focus on one aspect of the situation (in this case the length) and ignore other aspects (i.e. the addition of an extra sweet to the more compact row). A Concrete Operational child will know that the shorter row in fact contains more sweets, and so choose that one. In the formal operational stage abstract thinking becomes possible, in that they become able to reason in a way that's linked to the form of the logic, rather than the content of a hypothetical situation (they can think about things that they have not encountered themselves). In this theory of development, the child will encounter a situation that is incompatible with their way of thinking, and be forced to adapt the way they think in order to accommodate reality. ...read more.


Older children are also capable of using a number of different strategies for a problem, in the event of the first attempt to solve the problem being unsuccessful (Bee,2000; Pine 1999). The behaviourist viewpoint is that knowledge, competence and understanding do not progress in stages. The children develop because of environment stress - the environment shapes their development. Behaviourists believe that the intellectual growth of a child is influenced by a didactic relationship with more advanced individuals (as argued by Vygotsky). At any one point in time, Vygotsky believed there was a temporary maximum level of understanding - the 'zone of proximal development', which includes any concept slightly too difficult for the child to grasp. Vygotsky believed that other than the 'zone of proximal development' there was virtually no limit to how far the child can progress in time (unlike Piaget who believed that intellectual development is limited by the cognitive stage one is in) cognitively providing there is enough stimuli. Vygotsky did not believe there were stages of cognitive development. In conclusion cognitive development is more gradual than the concept of development in stages. Piaget had a tendency to underestimate the cognitive ability of children. Piaget used a small number of subjects, which was perhaps not large enough to be able to form assumptions about the human race as a whole. The behaviourist view that the environment shapes development seems to be more favourable but it is impossible to conclude strongly either in favour or not of favour of his theory. Criticisms such as McGarrigle and Donaldson in 1974 can undermine but not disprove Piaget's theory. ...read more.

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