General Overview

      Focuses on how cognitive processes (reasoning, perception, memory, intelligence) change over time.

      Questions how these changes can account for behaviour shown at different ages.

      Assumes that major changes occurring during childhood impact the individual as they move through their life.

      Key influential theorists are Piaget and Vygotsky with constructivist approach to cognitive development

      The belief is, “children must construct their own understandings of the world in which they live”.

      Concerned with qualitative changes within a child’s cognitive process.

Difference between theories:

      Piaget’s theory enhances the understanding of how children react and learn according to their age while

      Vygotsky’s theory help us understand the role of society in children’s learning.


Driving question is,

     “How does knowledge grow?”

      Knowledge develop through cognitive structures known as schemas.

      Schemas are mental representations of the world and how the individual interacts with it.

    For example a schema for sucking, reaching, and gripping

      As children interact with the world, their schemas constantly develop and are modified as result of new experience.

      Modification of schema is called adaptation.

      Knowledge is “individually constructed” since children actively construct knowledge themselves as a result of their interaction with new objects and experiences (constructism)

      Cognitive development is a result of cognitive adaptation (to meet the need)


Types of adaptation:

      Assimilation–new events (such as objects, experiences, ideas and situations) are fitted into existing schemas of what the child already understands about the world.

      Accommodation–new events do not fit existing schemas and therefore the schema has to be modified to allow the new world view, or a new schema has to be created.

      Is the creation of new knowledge and the rejection or adaptation of existing schemas occurring in four stages.


      Intelligence is under genetic control and develops in the form of predetermined stages.

      Children do not passively receive their knowledge; they are curious, self-motivated and seek out information to construct their own understanding of the environment.

      Children think qualitatively differently from adults (their mental processes are different from adults).

      Individuals construct their view of the world through mental frameworks of understanding (schema).


The sensorimotor stage (0–2 years)

      The infant has no formal schema for the world or itself. It can only know the world via its immediate senses and the motor or movement actions it performs.


      Profound egocentrism – The infant cannot distinguish between itself and the environment

      A lack of object permanence –unless the object is seen, then it does not exist

      Involuntary body movements define the infants’ behaviour

The pre-operational stage (2–7 years)

      Operations are logical mental rules.

      At this stage generally, the child cannot internalize these rules and relies on external appearances rather than internal mental logic.


      Establishment of object permanence and emergence of concrete operations.

      Profound egocentrism reduces (the child recognizes their identity)


      Lack of conservation– the realization objects can remain the same despite a change in appearance

      classification limitation –inability to classify similar objects into the same groups.

       Egocentrism – the child fails to see things in other people’s perspectives.

Concrete operational stage (7–11 years)

      The child develops schemas/rules for ordering or making sense the world (operations), but only applied to real objects in the real ‘concrete’ world.


      Conservation– the realization objects can remain the same despite a change in appearance.

      Egocentrism is resolved


      Abstraction (logic): Requires physical presence of things/objects

  Formal operational stage (11 years onwards)

      Mental structures are well developed that ideas can be manipulated mentally without the need for physical objects.

      Abstraction (imagination) is achieved

      Hypothetical problems and abstract concepts are worked out:

 For example, if A > B > C, then A > C (where > means ‘is greater than’).


      Learning activities should be matched to the child’s level of conceptual development.

      Including spontaneous experimentation to build children’s own understanding

       Knowledge must be actively constructed by the child.

      The learning environment should support the activity of the child    (i.e., an active, discovery-oriented environment) 

      Adopt instructional strategies that make children aware of conflicts and inconsistencies in their thinking (i.e., conflict teaching and Socratic dialog)

      Peer interactions play an important role in the child’s cognitive development.

              BY    LEV VYGOTSKY

      The theory is a reaction to Jean Piaget and was more concerned with how a child interacts with his culture and society.

      The Vygotskian child makes sense of the world through shared meaning with others whereas the Piagetian child makes sense of the world as the result of innate maturation process that drives cognitive development

      Viewed cognitive development as socially co-constructed between people as they interact.

       Vygotsky believed that children are born with elementary mental abilities such as perception, attention and memory. 

      As children develop and interact socially with their culture and society, these innate characteristics are further developed.

    The theory focused on:

      how children play and socialize

      language development in the context of their understanding of the world (key concept)

      the culture and language in a child’s cognitive development.

      Mental ability devided into basic innate capabilities called elementary functions (e.g. attention and sensation) and higher mental functions which develop as a result of cultural interaction.

      Culture as a body of knowledge held by persons of greater knowledge is the means by which cognitive development takes place


Pre-intellectual social speech (0–3 years)

    Thought is not constructed using language and speech is only used to enact social change (e.g. receiving objects from a parent).

Egocentric speech (3–7 years)

    Language controls the child’s own behaviour and is spoken out loud (e.g. when children play games they often verbalize their actions).

Inner speech (7+ years)

    The child uses speech silently to develop their thinking and publicly for social communication.

Zone of Proximal Development

      The difference between what children can do on their own, and what they could do with the assistance of others.


      The ZPD indicates what a child's level of mental development is at a particular time .

      Interactions with adults and peers in the zone of proximal development help children move to higher levels of mental functioning.

Educational Implication

      Role of private speech in cognitive development (the question of language in teaching and learning)

      The importance of guided participation and scaffolding.

      The role of peer interactions in cognitive development.

      Collaborative learning activities would also be emphasized in the Vygotsky classroom (discussions with knowledgeable peers)


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