Cognitive Development Critical Analysis

Abstract This report looks at cognitive development of an adolescent through the use of Piaget’s pendulum task, and aims to assess the level of cognitive development with comparison to literature in the field and furthermore provide suggestions of how a teacher could enhance the subjects learning in one key learning area. Pieget’s studies have been based around cognitive development. The development has 4 major stages. Each stage enables the person to develop ways of knowing. This report concentrates on the fourth stage, the formal operational stage.
Critics of Piaget’s work are looked at and ideas such as learning, mentors and structures are looked at. It was found that while the results of previous Piaget’s tests were replicated, the observations suggest that the results can not be assessed through Piaget’s work alone. Furthermore, to enhance the learning of the subject it was found that the NSW geography curriculum has the potential with appropriate teacher stimulus to adequately provide for the student, although literacy could be focused upon. Introduction This report looks at cognitive development through the use of Piaget’s pendulum task.
The pendulum task asks a person to figure out the variable that makes the pendulum swing faster, that is, increase the frequency. The way in which someone goes about the task is supposed to give an insight into the person’s level of cognitive development. Fundamental to Piaget’s work is that the brain and the environment interact in producing cognitive development, and that this development can be broken up into four major stages (Gleitman, 1995). Berger (1998) in review of Pieget (1952, 1970) states that these stages are age related, in that children generally reach each stage within a particular age range in sequence.

As a child enters into each stage they develop new ways of knowing and understanding (new ways of gathering intelligence) as defined by the boundaries of that stage. In respect to the age of the student that undertook the pendulum task it is the fourth stage (the last stage) of Piaget’s cognitive development (Inhelder, B. Piaget, J 1958) that will be looked at. Berger (1998) summarises the fourth stage, the ‘formal operational stage’, as developing from 11-12 years old through to adulthood and is ‘characterised by hypothetical, logical, and abstract thought’ (Berger, 1998, p. 1). Piaget’s studies by focusing on mental processors and structures of thought has led to a large body of work which has provided insight into the way that we understand certain aspects of human behaviour, for ‘we now have a greater appreciation of the capacities and limitations of the types of thinking that are possible at various ages’ (Berger, 1998, p. 41). As such this has greatly influenced educators in seeking “explanations for the difficulties encountered by the students in learning and as a basis for the design of more effective instruction’ (Adey, Shayer, 1993, p. 1).
For example, a major research topic was whether or not the development of cognition could be accelerated. Adey and Shayer, (1993) found that cognitive development could be accelerated and that the effects could be long term (Adey and Shayer, 1993, pp. 26-27). Furthermore, Adey and Shayer (1993) cite work by Hallam, (1967) and Jurd (1973) who found the notion of concrete (the third stage) and formal operations can be applied to history, and that Fusco (1983) found that it could be fully applied in the context of English comprehension and social studies (Adey, Shayer, 1993, pp. 26-27).
Thus, while Piaget’s studies on cognitive development have made a major contribution to knowledge in the field, his work has also led to a large body of criticism. Berger (1998, p. 45) suggests that many people think Piaget ‘underestimated the importance of external motivation and instruction…the role of society and home in fostering cognitive development (Berger, 1998, p. 45). Whereas socio-cultural theory ‘seeks to explain the growth of individual knowledge and competencies in terms of guidance, support, and structure provided by the broader cultural context’ (Berger, 1998, p. 6). For instance, Vygotsky, (1978) (cited in Bergman, 1998) thought that the development of cognitive competencies was from ‘the interaction between novices and more skilled members of the society, acting as tutors or mentors, in a process called an (Berger, 1998, p. 47) “apprenticeship in thinking” (Rogoff, 1990 cited in Berger, 1998). In addition, Flavell (1985 cited in Gleitman, 1995, p. 521) suggests that evidence shows a child’s mental growth is more a sequence rather then proceeding in simple stages.
Thus, this report through the use of the pendulum task will aim to: • identify one students level of cognitive development who is 11-14 years old • to compare and contrast the results with existing theory and research • suggest how a teacher can best meet this child’s developmental needs in one key learning area. Method Participant There was only one person studied for the purpose of this report. The subject was male. He was 12 years and 4 months old. The subject was born in China in moved to Australia when he was 2. The subject speaks a Chinese language at home and English would be classed as the subjects second language.
The subject is in year 7 at school and attends a school in the Sydney metropolitan area. He is not from a disadvantaged background. The subject was nervous before the task but settled down reasonably quickly. Procedure The study was carried out in the subject’s parent’s home. Informed consent was asked from the mother of the subject, a consent form was signed. At this stage confidentiality was ensured to both the mother and the subject and the reasons for the research were explained. A pendulum was made out of varying lengths of string and different weights. A frame supported the pendulum.
There were 3 different sizes and lengths of weights and strings. The height and the force at which the pendulum could be released could also be varied by the subject. A pen, paper and stop-watch was provided to the subject. A video camera was placed a few meters away from the pendulum to record the procedure. The subject was asked to use the pendulum to find out what makes it swing faster, that is swing more times in a shorter space of time. The subject was told that they could use the different lengths of string or different weights and could use the pen, paper and watch.
The subject then proceeds to go on with the experiment until they are happy with their results. A transcript of the recording is in appendix A Results To assess the subjects level of cognitive development the subjects actions were observed and analysised to see if they correspond with any of Piaget’s stages of development. Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the analysis was that the subject already knew the answer to the problem, for example: Researcher: “Your job is to figure out what makes it swing faster” Subject: “The length of the string” Researcher: “How do you know that? ” Subject: “I don’t really know, don’t know”
Researcher: “Do you want to test it anyway” Subject: “Yes” Thus, the subject started with the longest string, heaviest weight and recorded the findings on a piece of paper. Then proceeded to use the same weight but the middle length string and then the shortest string, recording the results and time each swing (see table below). Longest 0. 86 Middle 0. 54 Shortest 0. 16 The subject was asked if he wanted to try different weights and the subject said “no, because it is the same, it is the same with any weight”.
The subject was asked if he had learnt that at school and he was not sure. From analysis of these results it can be seen that the subject had some prior knowledge. Due to this he used logically experimentation through the use of isolating the variable to the length of string to determine whether he was right or not. The subject did not want to check the other variable of weight or height as he was sure it was length of string. As such hypothetical reasoning was also shown in the subject’s assurance that it was the string and not the weights that affected the frequency of the string.
Discussion and Conclusion The aim of this report was to determine the level of cognitive development of a child between the ages of 11 and 14 years using Piaget’s pendulum task and then suggest how a teacher can best meet this child’s developmental needs in one key learning area. It was found that the subject displayed signs of hypothetical and logical thinking, both are attributes of a person of his age and at the fourth stage of cognitive development, the ‘formal operations stage’. Thus, the results of Inhelder and Piaget’s (1958) studies and later studies were replicated.
In relation to whether the development was in sequence as Flavell (1985 cited in Gleitman, 1995, p. 521) suggests, the fact that there was prior knowledge could cast doubt on the stages theory as it would suggest that performance in these tasks are made up of more then the ability to logically reason. Furthermore, the experiment being greatly influenced by the fact that the subject already thought he new the answer to the problem when the task was initiated opens up ideas on accelerated cognitive development and the debate between Piaget and his theories and the social and instructional theorists.
For example, Siegler, Liebert and Liebert (1973) found that concrete operational attributes could be taught to younger adolescences. Thus, the subject being of boarder-line age could have had his cognitive development accelerated during primary school either intentionally or unintentionally, this would be unknown. This raises the question of whether the curriculum today has been developed with these issues in mind. As such, further studies with the same task with a larger sample could answer these issues.
In addition, the subject’s sister questioned whether it was all the time spent on the computer, internet or watching the ABC that the subject gained the prior knowledge, sense of logic and hypothetical reasoning. Perkins, Jay and Tishman (1983) cited in Adey (1997) put it down to psychological disposition, the tendency to behave in a certain way, that what matters is a person tendency invest themselves energetically in areas that cause development, that question the person. This psychological disposition could be inherited or could be developed through ways described in Vygotsky theories. That is through mentors, guidance and structure.
In today’s technologically advanced society Vygotsky’s (1978) (cited in Bergman, 1998) theories may include the television and internet as providing instruction and guidance and basic learning. As Adey (2002) puts it ‘simple learning is relatively independent of maturation. Learning has no sense of direction’ (Adey, 2002, p. 19). Thus, it could be seen that the level of cognitive development obtained could be said to have been obtained through a process of development as described by Piaget in combination with a social process as described by Vygotsky (1978) and a simple learning process as described by Adey (2002).
In suggesting how a teacher could best meet the subject’s educational needs in one key learning area, geography, the analysis of the subject was examined in reference to current junior geography curriculum. The NSW junior geography curriculum contains specified geography skills, tools and values that enable the teacher to integrate a range of teaching strategies that would enhance all areas of cognitive development, whether it be restrained to areas focused on by Piaget (1952, 1970) that Berger (1997) discusses or a broader range of areas as discussed by Vygotsky.
As such, in suggesting that the subject is well catered for in these areas, the one area in which the subject may need help is literacy, in voicing his opinions. The NSW geography curriculum does specify an oral component, it is just that this could be emphasised. In addition, in relation to the study it has been found that acceleration programs in science have contributed to gains that are long lasting in English tests (Adey, Shayer, 1993). Consequently, continued tasks to develop the formal operations stage such as orally describing variable orientated tasks may have long lasting improvements.
References Adey, P. Robertson, A & Venville, G. (2002). Effects of a cognitive acceleration program on Year 1 pupils. British Journal of Educational Psychology. 72, pp. 1-25. Adey, P. (1997). It All Depends on the context, Doesn’t It? Searching for General Educable Dragons. Studies in Science Education. (29), pp. 45-92. Adey, P. Shayer, M. (1993). An Exploration of Long-Term Far-Transfer Effects Following an Extended Intervention Program in High School Science Curriculum. Cognition and Instruction. 11(1), pp. 1-29. Berger, K. S. (1998).
The Developing Person Through the Life Span. New York, NY: Worth Publishers. Gleitman, H. (1995). Psychology. 4th ed. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company. Hallam, R. N. (1967). Logical thinking in history. Educational Review, 119, pp. 182-202. Inhelder , B. & Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolenscence: An essay on the construction of formal operational structures. New York: Basic books. Siegler, R. Liebert, D. & Liebert, R (1973). Inhelder and Piaget’s Pendulum Problem: Teaching Preadolescents to Act as Scientists.
Developmental Pschology. 9(1), pp. 97-101. Appendix Transcript of interview between researcher and subject. Researcher: What we are going to do is called a pendulum task. There is no right or wrong answer, what ever you do is Ok because it is just research. Subject: Ok Researcher: You can use the pen, paper and watch if you like. Subject: Ok Researcher: Do you know what a pendulum is? Subject: Yes! Researcher: So what we are trying to do is find out what makes it swing faster, that is make it swing more times more quickly. Subject: Ok.
Researcher: Ok so there are a few things that it could be, it could be the weight, the length of the string, the height you drop it from or how hard you push it. Your job is to figure out what makes it swing faster. Subject: The length of the string. Researcher: Ok, so take this. (handing subject paper, pen and watch). You said that it was the length of the string that made it go faster, why did you say that? Subject: I don’t know, don’t know. Researcher: Do you want to test it anyway? Subject: Yes. Researcher: What do you want to start with?
Subject: Longer string and heavy weight. Researcher: ok, so this is your longest string and heaviest weight. Subject: (drops the weight and times the swing and records results). Researcher: Do you want another look? Subject: No, its Ok. Researcher: Which one do you want use now? Subject: Same weight on a smaller string. Researcher: The medium string or the smallest string? Subject: the medium string. (Subject, performs task and records results). Researcher: Which one do you now want to try? Subject: The shortest string. Subject performs task again and records result) The shortest one is the quickest! Researcher: Do you want to try different weights to see if they do anything? Subject: No. Researcher: So you think it is just the length that affects it? Subject: Yes. Researcher: How come you don’t want to try different weights? Subject: because it is the same, the same with any weight. Researcher: did you learn that at school? Subject: I don’t know. Researcher: Ok, well it was the string that affected it, your too smart, thanks very much for your help.

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