Intellectual Development and Behavior
Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, both born in 1896, are two major contributors to the understanding of intellectual development. They are both considered constructivists because they emphasized that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner rather than passively received from others. However, neither suggested that input from others is not necessary; both writers acknowledged the essential role of social interaction for the development of understanding. Vygotsky wrote convincingly of social experience shaping how people think and interpret their world (Berk, 1994). Piaget’s work frequently discusses the role of social interaction with adults and with peers, as learners exchange viewpoints to construct understanding. Piaget (1932/1965) explained that social interactions between children are necessary for the development of intelligence, morality, and personality.
Both Piaget and Vygotsky also described processes of organizing information as central to learning. Vygotsky’s work (1934/1962, 1978) describes young children moving from randomly categorizing information in “heaps” to an increasingly more sophisticated classification system based on analysis of the relationship between pieces of information. Piaget’s work focused extensively on the significance of individually created logico-mathematical frameworks for classifying relationships between ideas and information (Gruber & Voneche, 1977).
What is commonly known about the work of either Piaget or Vygotsky is only the tip of the iceberg, and their most significant contributions are widely ignored due to their complexity. Both Piaget and Vygotsky are best known for the one aspect of their work that is easiest to understand: Vygotsky is best known for the idea of the zone of proximal development (Dixon-Krauss, 1996). Piaget is known for his stage theory, indicating a sequence of maturation in understanding and thinking. Vygotsky agreed with Piaget that young children’s thinking differs from that of older children, and that abstract thought is a later development (Berk, 1994). Due to Piaget’s life and career lasting much longer than Vygotsky’s, Piaget and his associate researchers at the Geneva Institute were able to amass huge quantities of research data about the learning process. Because children were the subjects of the studies, they provided excellent views of children’s thinking.
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