Evaluate Piaget's theory of cognitive development in the light of subsequent and relevant research.

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Evaluate Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in the light of subsequent and relevant research.    

Piaget has often been referred to as the pioneer of research into cognitive development in children.  His overall approach to understanding cognitive development was known as ‘genetic epistemology’, this was primarily due to his interest and knowledge that he developed in human organisms.  His background was in both biology and philosophy and concepts from both of these disciplines influenced his theories of child development.  According to Piaget there are four development stages (cognitive structures); sensorimotor, preoperations, concrete operations and formal operations.  The first stage is the Sensorimotor stage, this is from approximately 0 – 2 years, the child has to learn to organise and interpret sensory information and to co-ordinate motor action.  The first step is the reduction of the infants’ egocentricity to the point where it can distinguish between ‘me’ and ‘not me’.  Another milestone during this period is the development of object constancy.  The second stage is the Preoperational stage, from approximately 2 – 7 years. The child’s egocentricity is gradually reducing, but its operations on the environment are limited.  They are unable to think in terms of logical concepts such as conversation and they are unable to decentre. The Concrete Operational stage, from approximately 7 – 11 years; the child is able to undertake adult-style cognitive operations, but these are mainly limited to targets that exist in material form in the world.  The final stage that Piaget refers to is the Formal Operational stage, this starts at approximately 11 years.  The child is now fully decentred and can undertake abstract reasoning and perform logical operations.

The theoretical model, which Piaget applied to his theories, was the concept of Schema.  Schemas are evolving structures which change from one stage of cognitive development to the next, for example the very first schema is in which an infant develops the ‘body-schema’ when it is able to differentiate between itself and the outside world.  Schemas, according to Piaget are developed through two processes; assimilation and accommodation.  Through assimilation, the child takes a new experience and fits it into an existing schema, for example: all animals are called ‘doggie’.  Through accommodation, the child adjusts and existing schema to fit the nature of the environment, for example: cats can now be distinguished from dogs.

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Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development took into account some of Piagets work, but moved the theory forward.  It is far from the image of a child struggling to make cognitive sense of the world through problem solving and rules.  Vygotsky stressed the importance of context in which learning takes place and the interaction of the learner with their peers.  His main emphasis was on the way that culture influences the course of human development, and that through social interaction and language a child receives the motivation to develop. Vygotsky central concept of development is that of the Zone of ...

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