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Cognitive development is defined as the areas of neuroscience and psychology studies, concentrating on adolescent development with special focusing on information processing, language learning, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, and brain development. Jean Piaget and Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky were two pioneers in the field of cognitive development. With this essay I will compare and contrast each theorist’s views on the nature or development of intelligence. I shall also compare their views on the stages of development from birth through adolescence. And finally I will incorporate possible classroom applications of each theorist’s views.

Similarities in Cognitive Development

Piaget believed that all children are born with a tendency to interact with and make sense of their environment and that they need little instructor intervention. He referred to the basic ways of organizing and processing information as cognitive structures. He defined the mental patterns that guide behavior as schemes, and he theorized that we use schemes to find out about and interact with the world around us. Piaget’s theory consisted of steps in the development of new schemes of cognitive development referred to as adaptation of adjusting schemes in response to a new object being introduced in our environment. The first step in adaptation if called assimilation, or trying to understand the new object or event in our environment from known scheme, and if the new object does not fit into an existing scheme, the individual will move into accommodation where they modify an existing scheme to fit the new situation. Finally the person will reach an understanding of the new object, this process of restoring a balance between current schemes and the integration of the new schemes is known as equilibration. Piaget theory of intellectual development is a constructivism view, where individuals build systems of understanding through their experiences and interaction with in their environment, suggesting that development came before learning, that specific cognitive structures need to be developed before certain types of learning can take place.

Like Piaget, Lev Vygotsky believed that cognitive development takes place in steps that are the same for all individuals. Vygotsky theorized the first step in intellectual development is learning that action and sounds have meaning. Second, that step in cognitive development was practicing the new action or sound. And finally, using the actions and sounds to think and solve problems without the help of others, referred to by Vygotsky as self-regulation.

Differences in Cognitive Development

While Piaget believed that intellectual development was highly personal, and that individuals learned from experiences rather than the teaching of concepts and thought processes, Vygotsky believed that learning development was a social process directly linked to the teaching of information, and that learning proceeded development. Vygotsky theorized that language was the key to cognitive development, and learning was influenced by the culture of the individual. He believed that a child first incorporated the speech on others into their personal knowledge and practices it, known as private speech, and later they used this “private speech” in efforts to solve tasks. Vygotsky redefined this theory into what we now know as The Zone of Proximal Development. (ZDP) defines intellectual development as the ability to use thought to control our own actions, but first we must master cultural communication systems, and then use these to systems to regulate our thought processes. Children learning with in the (ZPD) work on tasks that they could not complete alone, but were able to finish with the help of and competent instructor. These teachable moments demonstrate Vygotsky theory that learning proceeded development, and that cooperative learning promotes advance learning. His theory defined language as a way to pass on cultural values and that teaching language was the medium needed to develop cognitive thought processes.

Similarities of the Stages of Development

Both Piaget and Vygotsky were stage theorist, meaning they both believe that development takes place in observable stages. Piaget’s theory was that development took place in four stages.

-The first stage for Piaget’s theory was the sensorimotor stage (from birth – age 2) where the child explores the world using their 5 senses and motor skills. Children are born with what is described as reflex motor skills, suck, grasp, ect. During early development, the child uses these skills to manipulate the world and develops schemes from these experiences in a progression toward goal-directed behavior nearing the end of this stage of development.

-Piaget’s second stage is Preoperational stage (2yrs-7yrs) He believed that children in this stage of development wouldn’t have mastered the ability of more complex mental operations; children do not have the ability to reason through their actions. They are considered egocentric, and assume others agree with their points of view. During this stage children lack conservation skills; they do not understand that the amount of something remains the same when the appearance has been rearranged. And they have not developed reversible thinking or taking a problem back to its starting point.

-Developmental stage three is the Concrete Operational Stage (7-11) In this stage the child is beginning to achieve comprehension of abstract concepts. The child is starting to understand conservation, perspective and reverse thinking. The child is capable of systematic ordering and able to group objects accordingly. The child is starting to multitask in their thought processes.

-And Finally, The Formal Operational stage Age (11 to early-adult) By this stage the person has accomplished abstract think processes. They have developed hypothetical and deductive reasoning. They have the ability to imagine situations and reason best solution principles. They are now capable of meta-cognition or able to think about thinking.

Vygotsky’s stage theory of development was known as Scaffolding. In Scaffolding, First a mentor starts with providing the child with a high level of support, such as one-on-one instruction, allowing the child time to develop an understanding of the concepts being presented. Next the mentor starts to scale back the support allowing the child to take on more of the responsibility of the task. And finally, when the child understands the objective of the task the mentor steps aside allowing the child to perform the task on their own, demonstrating the comprehension of the knowledge set gained.

Differences in Stages of Development

Piaget’s theory of the stages of development, focus on development is necessary before learning can take place, and that interaction with one’s environment is more important to development than mentored instruction. This view is very age oriented and ridged in its outline and expatiations of child development. Where Vygotsky views learning as the processor to development. That language, culture and mentoring are all important aspects of the learning process that will help the individual develop successfully.

Similarities in Classroom Application

Piaget’s and Vygotsky theories have similar applications for the classroom setting; first Piaget wants the instructor must focus on the process of child thinking trying to understand how the child can up with the answer, and not just the product or solution to the problem, deemphasize practices aimed at making children make adult like decisions, and have the instructor acknowledge the differences in individual developmental progress. Vygotsky’s theory in a similar fashion, places emphasis on the child’s thinking process, with the instructor understanding the children’s individual developmental progress. As a teacher I can use these theories to develop class room techniques that focus on the students as individuals, and I’ll try to understand their level of development so that I do not force the student to meet standards that are not reasonable given their state of understanding and cognitive development.

Differences In classroom Application

Piaget’s theory wants the instructor to encourage the student’s into self-initiation and active learning activities which take the emphasis off structured knowledge and encourages the student to explore and build on current levels on cognitive knowledge. This differs from Vygotsky theory, which advises the teacher to provide planned activities, and encourage students to participate in planned group activities, which encourage them to learn in structure environments which encourage high levels of mentored instruction.

With an option of the two theories, I think I’ll stick to a more Vygotsky form of lesson planning. I believe that students can do well with hand on actives, yet I believe that if the Instructor does not provide the student with structure the students do not develop at a rate that allow them to control themselves in a classroom setting, and that structure gives the student guidance and sets expectations for the students, that give the students goals to strive for.