Kindergarteners (5 – 6 years old)
According to Piaget’s stage theory, the kindergarteners are meant to be in the pre-operational stage of cognitive development. The main idea of this stage revolves around egocentrism and a lack of conservation. It was observed that the children indeed demonstrated egocentrism. When doing activities with them such as asking them which book they wanted to read, they went on to all shout out their book of choice, not paying attention to the others around them. In addition, when working with kids in groups and asking their opinion on certain topics, they spoke all at once, again not caring if anyone was listening or responding to them.
However, unlike Piaget’s theory, the children demonstrated the beginnings of conservation, as opposed to a lack thereof. When discussing things such as music, they used “manipulatives” to attempt to understand things such as rhythm while using the instruments themselves. This was not the case for all children though, as some had difficulty understanding and did not think of using “manipulatives”. This follows the next stage of concrete operational where children begin to use logic and objects to understand more complex ideas. In addition, when replicating Piaget’s conservation task, some kids demonstrated conservation as they did not think that the change in physical appearance of clay changed the amount of it. As mentioned in the “Theory” section of this blog, two weaknesses of Piaget’s cognitive development stage theory is that the age range for the stages have been questioned and the notion of development has been seen as continuous as opposed to in stages. In terms of teaching this makes sense as different levels of development in children are evident in a classroom setting. This can explain why some children, as Piaget’s theory suggests, demonstrates a lack of conservation while some kids do not. This can be explained through social factors such as quality of schooling that Piaget failed to address in his theory, as he only addresses the aspect of cognition.
First Graders (6 – 7 years old)
The first graders were between six and seven years old which, according to Piaget’s theory, means that they are in the pre-operational stage of cognitive development. This was immediately striking as the kindergarten students are also in the pre-operational stage, yet there were differences in behavior between the two groups. In particular, the extent to which the children demonstrated the behaviors.
Both the kindergarten and first grade students showed egocentrism. When asking several first grade students to present a project they had done in class previously, they explained it but with no care as to whether or not others were listening to them. However, the amount of children in the class that demonstrated egocentrism at this level was minimal in comparison to the kindergarteners, where a majority of them had shown egocentrism. Again, this relates back to the evaluation of Piaget’s theory wherein it is seen that development is continuous as opposed to stages. Though both the kindergarten and first grade students were in the pre-operational stage of development, the extent of egocentrism differed between both groups, supporting the notion that the stages are too constricting in terms of age as some children may develop faster than others. This however, does not discredit the behaviors involved in the stages, as egocentrism was in fact present in both groups.
In addition, while some kindergarteners had been able to demonstrate conservation when presented with Piaget’s conservation task using clay, a majority still had difficulty grasping the concept. However, when presented to first graders, a large portion of the group used “manipulatives” to measure the clay to determine that the amount does not change despite the physical appearance changing. Similar to the kindergarteners, the use of “manipulatives” is part of the concrete operational stage, and thus Piaget’s age range for the stages is in question. There were however, a small amount of first graders who did not understand the conservation task, and followed the description of the pre-operational stage. Again, the differences in development can be attributed to social factors that Piaget fails to address, such as prior schooling or a child’s home situation.
Second Graders (7 – 8 years old)
The second graders are part of the concrete operational stage of development. The observations of the second graders were more limited as no interaction was available, however they demonstrated a greater level of maturity and behavior characteristic of the concrete operational stage. In comparison to the kindergarteners and first graders, they showed little to no self-talk and egocentrism. When they were given a writing task, most of the class was quiet when writing as opposed to speaking their ideas out loud and being unaware of the people around them. However, this was not the case for all students as some still whispered to themselves while writing. Yet, again, the extent of egocentrism is much lower in comparison to the kindergarten and first grade students.
Though this was the extent of the observations, similar to the kindergarten and first grade students, different levels of development were demonstrated within the classroom. This again questions the validity of the age limitations drawn between the different stages. In regards to a classroom setting, the age limitations between grades do not follow the stage age restrictions. This subsequently makes it difficult to gauge the cognitive development of the students, as there will in fact be a range and any teacher will need to plan their lessons accordingly.