Woolfolk et al (2009). Ch 2 – Cognitive development and language.

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P. H., & Perry, N. E. (2009). Cognitive development and language. In Educational Psychology (4th ed., pp. 20-59). Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.

[Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky are two of the most influential cognitive development theorists. Piaget set forth ideas on what and when students are ready to learn (four stages). Vygotsky considered how teachers and parents influenced cognitive development.] (p 21)

[Definitions of development] (p 22)

“development – Orderly, adaptive changes that humans (or animals) [organisms] go through from conception to death.” (p 22)

[Types of development: physical, social and emotional, cognitive] (p 22)

[Reference to maturation. Social, emotional, and cognitive development relies on maturation and on interactions with environment.] (p 22)


“1. People develop at different rates. …

2. Development is relatively orderly. …

3. Development takes place gradually.” (p 22)

[Heading] “The developing brain: Neurons” (p 23)

[Terminology: neurons, synapses] (p 23)

[At age two or three, children are oversupplied with neurons. Only the ones that get used survive. “Pruning” of neurons, at certain developmental stages early in life, brain expects certain stimulation. If it isn’t received, brain adapts/transfers to another function. Eg: visual vs auditory example.]

“… experience-expectant …” (p 23)

[Synaptic connections formed through experience.] “… experience-dependent …” (p 24)

[Terminology: plasticity, myelination] (p 24)

[Heading] “The developing brain: Cerebral cortex” (p 24)

“… it takes at least two decades for the biological processes of brain development to produce a fully functional prefrontal cortex (Weinberger, 2001). … lack the brain development to balance impulse with reason and planning. … parents have to ‘loan’ their children a prefrontal cortex, by helping them make set rules and limits and make plans …” (p 25)

[Terminology: lateralization (specialization of brain hemispheres)] (p 25)

[Teaching to a specific side of the brain is not supported by research. See Byrnes & Fox, 1998. Per Stanovich: “left-brain-right-brain nonsense” (1998).] (p 25)

[Research has shown that experience and learning affect organization and structure of the brain.] (p 25)

[Sidebar discussion about balancing stress and support in learning. Challenge is good, too much can cause anxiety, inhibiting learning. See Sylvester, 2003.] (p 26)

[Discussion supporting modalities (visual, verbal, or other learning), but as “preferred modes of processing.” Per Driscoll, 2005.] (p 26)

“Piaget identified four factors — biological maturation, activity, social experiences, and equilibration — that interact to influence changes in thinking (Piaget, 1970a).” (p 27)

[Piaget’s “invariant functions” or tendencies — organization and adaptation.] (p 27)

[Piaget called organizational structures “schemes.”] (p 27)

[Adaptation involves assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is “fitting new information into existing schemes”, accommodation is “altering existing schemes or creating new ones.” Learning/experience that is vastly unfamiliar may be ignored. Eg, foreign language, if some familiarity, one may attempt to understand.] (p 28)

[Equilibration — testing if a scheme works against a new event or situation. In disequilibrium, we search for solution.] (p 28)

[Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete-operational, formal-operational.] (p 29)

[Heading] “Sensorimotor” (p 29)

[Terminology: object permanence — it’s always there, whether perceived or not.] (p 29)

[Terminology: goal-directed action] (p 29)

[Heading] “Preoperational” (p 30)

[Terminology: operations — actions that are thought out, ie, performed mentally] (p 30)

[Terminology: semiotic function — ability to use symbols] (p 30)

[Terminology: reversible thinking, conservation — both not yet possible in preoperational] (p 30)

[Terminology: decentring — focus on more than one aspect] (p 31)

[Terminology: ego-centric, collective monologue] (p 31)

[Heading] “Concrete-operational stage” (p 31)

“According to Piaget, a student’s ability to solve conservation problems depends on an understanding of thre basic aspects of reasoning: identity, compensation, and reversibility.” (p 31)

[Terminology: classification — “… focus on a single characteristic …”, “grouping objects into categories”] (p 31)

[Terminology: seriation — putting things in order within one characteristic] (p 32)

[Heading] “Formal-operational stage” (p 33)

[Terminology: formal operations — “… involving abstract thinking and coordination of a number of variables.”] (p 33)

[Terminology: hypothetico-deductive reasoning] (p 34)

[Terminology: adolescent ego-centrism – everyone is interested in me. Also, discussion about social blunders, adolescent depression, and high-SES adolescents (extremes: depression, invulnerabilty). Adolescents and imagining ideal worlds, situations, people by deducing and imagining possibilities.] (p 35)

[Formal-operational reasoning may not be universal.] (p 35-36)

“They may be a product of practice in solving hypothetical problems and using formal scientific reasoning — abilities that are valued and taught in literate cultures …” (p 36)

[Heading] “Information-processing and neo-Piagetian views of cognitive development” (p 36)

[Challenging existing thinking using ‘rule assessment’ per Siegler, 2000.] (p 36)

[Neo-Piagetian theories take into account the role of attention, memory, and learning strategies.] (p 36)

[Suggestions for teaching to formal-operational level] (p 37)

“Continue to use concrete-operational teaching strategies and materials.” [eg, visual aids, stories]

“Give students the opportunity to explore many hypothetical questions.” [eg, debates, discussions, papers]

“Give students opportunities to solve problems and reason scientifically.” [eg, experiment design, logical arguments]

“Whenever possible, teach broad concepts, not just facts, using materials and ideas relevant to the students’ lives.” [eg, pop culture, current events]

(p 37)

[Stages may not be an accurate reflection of what occurs, “changes through equilibration” may be more accurate. Per Miller, 2002] (p 37)

[‘Catastrophe theory’ – small changes that suddenly manifest themselves at once.] (p 38)

[Heading] “Underestimating children’s abilities” (p 38)

[Piaget’s theories don’t account for extraordinary abilities in children, beyond their expected cognitive development stage, eg, prodigies.] (p 38)

[Heading] “Cognitive development and culture” (p 38)

[Culture affects the focus of development.] (p 38)

“Children in Western cultures may master scientific thinking and formal operations because this is the kind of thinking required n Western schools (Berk, 2005; Geary, 1998). Even basic concrete operations such as classification may not be so basic to people of other cultures. For example, when individuals from the Kpelle people of Africa were asked to sort 20 objects, they created groups that made sense to them — a hoe with a potato, a knife with an orange. The experimenter could not get the Kpelle to change their categories; they said this is how a wise man would do it. Finally, the experimenter asked in desperation, “Well, how would a fool do it?” Then the subjects promptly created the four neat classification piles the experimenter had expected — food, tools, and so on (Rogoff & Morelli, 1989).” (p 38)

[Heading] “Vygotsky’s sociocultural perspective” (p 39)

“… culture shapes cognitive development …” (p 39)

[Heading] “The social sources of individual thinking” (p 40)

“co-constructed – Constructed through a social process in which people interact and negotiate (usually verbally) to create an understanding or to solve a problem; the final product is shaped by all participants.” (p 40)

“… strategy for finding the toy … appear first between a child and a ‘teacher’ before they exist within the individual child.” (p 40)

“… once a useful argument was employed by one student, it spread to other students, and the argument stratagem form appeared more and more in the discussions.” [Per Anderson et al, 2001] (p 40)

[Piaget saw social interaction as causing conflict, therefore disequilibrium, and thereby learning. Piaget felt peers better suited to such engagement. Vygotsky suggested that such interactions should be with more capable or advanced thinkers as the teachers. ] (p 40)

[Heading] “Cultural tools and cognitive development” (p 41)

“cultural tools – The real tools (computers, scales, etc.) and symbol systems (numbers, language, graphs, etc.) that allow people in a society to communicate, think, solve problems, and create knowledge.” (p 41)

[As symbol systems, comparing Roman numerals to Arabic for complex mathematics.] (p 41)

“Thus, children’s knowledge, ideas, attitudes, and values develop through appropriating or ‘taking for themselves’ the ways of acting and thinking provided by their culture and by the more capable members of their group (Kozulin & Presseisen, 1995).” (p 41)

“In Vygotsky’s theory, language is the most important symbol system in the tool kit …” (p 42)

[Heading] “The role of language and private speech” (p 42)

“… cultures develop words for the concepts that are important to them.” (p 42)

[But what came first, the words or the concepts? See Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.]

“… private speech (talking to yourself) guides cognitive development.” (p 42)

[Vygotsky saw private speech as a step toward self-regulation.] (p 43)

[More private speech in children and adults when challenged, problems, errors. Per Duncan & Cheyne, 1999.] (p 43)

[Heading] “The zone of proximal development” (p 44)

“… phase at which a child can master a task if given appropriate help and support.” (p 44)

[Heading] “The role of learning and development” (p 44)

“… Vygotsky believed that learning was an active process that does not have to wait for readiness.” [Contrary to Piaget] (p 45)

“… learning pulls development to higher levels … other people, including teachers, play a significant role in cognitive development.” [Vygotsky] (p 45)

[Vygotsky died at young age before detailing his theories.] (p 45)

[Aiming for the right amount of disequilibrium — not too hard, not too easy.]

“Using multi-level lessons is called differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2005b).” (p 46)

“… learning is a constructive process.” (p 46)

“All students need to interact with teachers and peers in order to test their thinking, to be challenged, to receive feedback, and to watch how others work out problems. Disequilibrium is often set in motion quite naturally when the teacher or another student suggests a new way of thinking about something. As a general rule, students should act, manipulate, observe, and then talk and/or write (to the teacher and each other) about what they have experienced. Concrete experiences provide the raw materials for thinking. Communicating with others makes students use, test, and sometimes change their thinking abililties.” (p 47)

[Terminology: scaffolding] (p 48)

“… webquest …” [Under “Teaching with technology”] (p 49)

[Examples of assisted learning techniques, strategies for scaffolding. Chart lists a number of approaches …] (p 50)

“Using procedural facilitators. … Modelling use of facilitators. … Thinking out loud. … Anticipating difficult areas. … Providing prompt or cue cards. … Regulating the difficulty. … Providing half-done examples. … Utilizing reciprocal teaching. … Providing checklists. …” (p 50)

[Discussion about language learning in children.] (p 51)

[Adults learning second languages quickly …]

“… older students go through the stages of language learning faster than young children. Adults have more learning strategies and greater knowledge of language in general to bring to bear in mastering a second language (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002).” (p 53)

[Benefits to bi- and multi-lingualism] “… increased cognitive abilities in the areas of concept formation, creativity, and cognitive flexibility.” (p 53)

“pragmatics – Knowledge about how to use language — when, where, how, and to whom to speak.” (p 54)

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