The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. (Jean Piaget 1896-1980)
How has Piaget’s theory Influenced education practices?
Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts….little vessels…ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim…(Charles Dickens – Hard Times)
Thankfully we have moved away from the belief that children are moulded from the outside. Piaget’s theory marked an important change of direction from the Behaviourist viewpoint which did not acknowledge the cognitive processes that children go through, but rather viewed them like empty vessels to be filled.
This change of direction resulted in an important shift in the way people view and study children’s development. In turn, this has led to a greater understanding of the way children think and learn.
Although Piaget did not directly link his theory to education, his research has been extremely influential within educational policy. In the UK for example, there was a thorough review of primary education by the government which resulted in the publication of the Plowden Report,
(http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/plowden/plowden1967-1.html). The result of this was the advocacy of discovery learning: that children learn most affectively by doing, by exploring.
It was Piaget’s belief that the way children ultimately learn, is by them being active in their learning and that knowledge is, not merely transmitted verbally but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner, (www. sk.com.br/sk-piaget.html)
His theory is also rooted in the belief that children need to be ready: that children at a certain stage cannot be taught the concepts of a higher stage (for more on this see post).
A Piaget influenced curricula
A Piaget influenced curricula, upholds the belief that children need to explore, to experiment, (and something close to my heart), to question. It advocates that children should be provided with opportunities to discuss and debate with each other, with teachers acting as guides and facilitators. Moreover, that children should be able to make mistakes and learn from them.
The four main teaching implications from Piaget’s theory has been outlined by Berk (2001). These are:
i) A focus on the process of children’s thinking, not just its products.
This refers to teachers not only checking a child’s answer for example, but understanding how the child arrived at that answer. What thought processes did they go through? It is only when the teacher understands the child’s methods, that they in a position to build on the child’s level of cognitive functioning.
ii) Recognition of the crucial role of children’s self-initiated, active involvement in learning activities.
This refers to children being able to discover things for themselves through spontaneous interaction with their environment rather than the presentation of ready made knowledge.
iii) A de-emphasis on practices aimed at making children adult like in their thinking.
When speaking to educators around the world, Piaget noticed that many of them were interested in how they could speed up children’s development; particularly those in the USA. Piaget believed that premature teaching, (i.e. teaching the child something before they are ready), could be worse than no teaching at all, because it leads to superficial acceptance of adult formulas rather than true cognitive understanding (May and Kundert, 1997).
iv) Acceptance of individual differences in developmental progress.
A key feature of Piaget’s theory was that children progress through the cognitive stages at different rates. This being the case, a child’s progress should be measured against their, previous course of development, not in terms of normative standards provided by the performances of same age peers. (http://wps.ablongman.com/ab_slavin_edpsych_8/38/9951/2547688.cw/content/)
The final teaching implication seems to be very much at odds with what is happening in a lot of our schools today. Standardised tests are commonplace and it is difficult to see how they can measure against previous individual development. By their nature, they also do not take into account that children learn at different rates.
My daughter hasn’t yet started primary school, but I already know that the standardised testing, as well as the sheer amount of it, will prove to be a bone of contention!
If you have any experiences/comments that you would like to share based on this post, then I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.
Education Psychology: theory and practice, Robert E. Slavin
I agree that the movement to provide standardised tests to young children is a backward step. It is quite dangerous as it could put a label on a child at an early age, which might lead to that child developing negative feelings about their own self worth. It is far better for teachers of our youngest children to develop a detailed understanding of how each child reacts to learning experiences. This differentiated approach will help children develop holistically.