Intellectual Development and Behavior (page 2)
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.
Young Children’s Thinking Is Different
The work of Piaget and his colleagues clearly shows that a child’s view of the world and reality is different from an adult’s. Children’s limited reasoning ability, coupled with their limited experience, often bring them to conclusions inconsistent with adult logic. This situation often gets children into trouble. Teachers and parents get angry at youngsters for what adults perceive as disobeying rules, telling lies, being selfish or inconsiderate, and behaving in totally irrational ways. To make matters worse, the children don’t realize that they have done anything wrong. For a parent or teacher who doesn’t understand what Piaget (1964) has explained about intellectual development, this behavior can be totally infuriating. However, it is often just normal behavior for a young child.
Part of Piaget’s (1965) famous and extensive studies of children’s thinking involved their understanding of rules in games. He focused on rules in the game of marbles, finding out that children’s views of rules differ with age. The younger children weren’t able to follow the rules but believed that they were quite sacred and imposed by adults. Piaget pointed out that these youngsters nevertheless seemed unconcerned about following the rules. Older children felt free to change the rules by mutual consent, but then felt bound by them. Piaget related this concept to the difference between guidelines for life that are imposed by others and those that children reason for themselves. The latter situation signals moral autonomy.
The way children deal with the rules of a game can help adults understand how children deal with societal rules and expectations (Piaget, 1965). As you watch youngsters playing games, you can see for yourself that their ideas about rules vary with their ages.
Dennis is amused at how his 3-year-old students think about rules for their games. When they play hide-and-seek, they tend to yell out, “Here I am! Come find me!” If some adult sets up a race, the children don’t wait for “ready, set, go.” After the race, if someone asks who won, they all say with conviction, “I won! I won!” It is clear that young children respond according to their perceptions of what is important, not according to adult rules.
Most preschool youngsters don’t understand, or can’t cope with, the competitive aspect of games. The first time Dennis set up a game of musical chairs with 4-year-olds, he quickly learned a better way of structuring the game. He was faced with torrents of tears when youngsters were “out” after not finding a chair. Dennis immediately changed the rules so that there was a chair for everyone; the challenge was simply to find a seat quickly when the music stopped. The important thing was that no one was forced out of the game.
Primary-grade children become concerned about rules and about winning. The desire to win often colors the interpretation of rules, and each child wants to change the rules in his or her favor. Mrs. Jensen values the arguments and discussions that are an inevitable part of board games among her first-graders. She recognizes that learning to resolve their own disputes about rules helps children learn to reason. She appreciates that young children can learn about cooperation from these opportunities to consider each other’s position (e.g., DeVries & Zan, 2006; Siccone & Lopez, 2000). By learning to consider the viewpoint of others, children learn about behaving in ways that are compatible with the needs of others. This lesson takes time and careful adult assistance, but it is an important part of the long-term goals of discipline.
It is important for adults to realize that children who break rules, whether in play or elsewhere, may not understand that they have done so. Much of what adults take for granted is unknown to children. Piaget’s (1965) studies of moral development indicate that young children are not capable of understanding why certain behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable; therefore, many behavior problems are caused by a lack of understanding, and the child truly has no idea of wrongdoing.
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