I like Piaget – so much that I spent nearly 10 years studying his works as the theoretical basis of my dissertation. He makes sense in the world of babies. He broke the mold of thinking that children were simply small adults only less intelligent. He spent his life observing them and pronounced them as “different” thinkers and not “same, but less than adult” thinkers. Many of his observations have been confirmed by sophisticated neuro-imaging that shows the stage-like brain growth he described. One of the main problems with Piaget is that he wrote so much that most people don’t bother slogging through his works. And, the “Dummies Guide to Piaget” just doesn’t exist (that I know of). He was Swiss and wrote in French and his works were translated to English. His descriptions of the processes used by the thinking child are exquisite. Here is a quick summary:
The first stage of cognitive development is known as Sensorimotor and includes those from birth to two years of age. Infants are at first limited to the reflexive movements present at birth but they soon repeat actions and get results from those actions much to their delight. They build on these reflexes and develop systems so they can apply those activities to an ever wider range of situations.
In the next stage, Preoperational, which spans ages two to seven years approximately, children acquire the skill to create both mental and verbal symbols (think and talk). They are able to use simple classifications, but lack generally lack the ability to relate cause to effect. They are self-oriented and egocentric and can only view the world from their own perspective.
Following Preoperational, the stage of Concrete Operations arises (approximately ages seven to twelve years) and the child’s reasoning becomes more logical, but concrete in nature. Children in this stage are able to take another person’s point of view. They are building the ability to classify objects which is why they are often avid collectors of all kinds of objects. At this concrete stage, they do not have the mental agility to manipulate abstract problems which requires consideration of all logical possible outcomes.
In Piaget’s final stage, signs of Formal Operational thinking emerge (beginning usually around 12 years). Here in Formal Operations, adolescents begin to think logically and abstractly. They are able to reason theoretically and are able to engage in hypothetico-deductive thinking which makes them a candidate for Sherlock Holmes’ partner. Piaget proposed that while people would further revise their knowledge base, the developments attained in the Formal Operations stage provides all the reasoning capabilities that would be used through adulthood.
Multiple studies show that only 30% of all college freshmen are in the Formal Operations stage. Sounds like a challenge to me.