The Family and School Context in Middle Childhood Cognitive Development (page 2)
During middle childhood, parents are still largely responsible for influencing which activities the child engages in as well as the child’s level of participation in these activities (Gauvain & Savage, 1995; Rogoff, 1998). To this end, parents shape the cognitive opportunities to which the child is exposed. An example of how family interaction shapes the development of a cognitive skill is the study of planning skills. Planning skills are the deliberate organization of a sequence of actions oriented toward achieving a specific goal (Gauvain, 1999). For example, planning skills are required to complete homework within a designated period of time, or to retrieve water successfully from the community well. Throughout middle childhood, children show good conceptual understanding of planning and when it is needed. They are capable of planning longer sequences of steps, are able to use knowledge of familiar events to plan flexibly, and consider more alternatives and correct their planning errors more readily during execution (Hudson & Fivush, 1991). Research suggests that social interaction is an important context for the development of planning skills. Children learn about the process of planning as they coordinate plans with others; however, the content of what is planned, the overall goals of planning, and the opportunity for practice reflect the values and goals of the family.
For example, one study asked 7- to 10-year-old schoolchildren to report on their involvement in planning activities during nonschool hours (Gauvain & Huard, 1999). Children were asked about the nature and extent of their after-school activities, along with who was responsible (child, parent, or both) for planning these activities. Results indicated that children’s responsibility for planning their own after-school activities increased with age. For many children however, there was little free time after school to plan, either on their own or with peers, because their time was filled with adult-determined and planned obligations. Children with full schedules, largely determined by adults, reported feeling more stress during the day than children with more free time (Guavain & Huard, 1999).
In sum, during middle childhood, school-age children have opportunities to develop planning skills in the family context, but these opportunities are affected in important ways by the cultural values and practices held by the family.
How might the experience of formal schooling affect and be affected by the development of cognitive skills? Earlier in this chapter we discussed how schooled and non-schooled children performed differently on formal cognitive tasks. This difference was largely due to familiarity with the task materials and experience with the task. How might the structural or pedagogical characteristics of a formal classroom shape the development of a cognitive skill? We know that, for example, when teachers are explicit in their learning strategy instruction and offer specific strategies to try, children are not only more likely to exhibit these strategic skills, but show improved learning benefits in the classroom as well (Moely, Hart, Leal, Santulli, Rao et al., 1992).
Teachers who use collaborative problem-solving techniques in the later elementary school grades find that specific cognitive skills are required and enhanced through this process. In one study, pairs of 10- to 11-year-old children worked on a computer task that involved scientific reasoning (Teasley, 1995). They were to figure out how a spaceship moved and discover the function or purpose of an unlabeled computer key. The results showed that the amount of task-related talk in which the children engaged was related to success on the task. When the dialogue between the two children was examined, researchers found that children benefited from having to examine and consider the thoughts of their partner. Additional research shows that problem-solving with a peer is made even more effective if feedback is provided by the teacher (Ellis, Klahr, & Siegler, 1993).
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