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Cognitive Development and Language. Chapter 2. Three Big Questions. Nature vs. Nurture Which drives development? Impossible to separate influences; both are critical Continuity vs. Discontinuity Does progress ebb and flow or does it build gradually? Critical Periods

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three big questions
Three Big Questions

Nature vs. Nurture

Which drives development?

Impossible to separate influences; both are critical

Continuity vs. Discontinuity

Does progress ebb and flow or does it build gradually?

Critical Periods

‘Sensitive periods’ better descriptors for points where children are best able to learn

three guiding principles
Three Guiding Principles

Different rates of development

Development is orderly

Development is gradual


Orderly, adaptive changes we go through from conception to death

What does this mean?

Types of development: physical, personal, social, cognitive

Maturation (nature rather than nurture)

Changes are genetically pre-determined

Similar across individuals and cultures

brain physiology
Brain Physiology

Parts of the brain:

Neurons and their components

Lobes and cortex (hierarchical functions)

Hemispheres and their role in cognition (lateralization)

Left associated with language processing and creativity

Right associated with visual-spatial organization

Less pronounced for left-handed persons and women


Communication mechanisms in the brain

Control transmission of chemicals called neurotransmitters

Action potentials, or tiny electrical surges, guide communication

Neurotransmitters are absorbed by other neurons’ dendritic branches, which continues the communication process.

physiology and instruction
Physiology and Instruction

Individual experiences

Direct instruction

“Types” of learning

Direct (vertical, oblique, horizontal)

Indirect (situational)






Learner cognitive preferences or strengths

Some students will learn better with visual tasks, others with auditory tasks, etc.

Vary classroom activities to both cultivate a variety of skills and allow individuals opportunities to “shine” in their areas of strength

Plasticity and development

Young children have extremely plastic minds; they are heavily influenced by extreme events and flourish in rich environments that include diverse but controlled tactile, visual, auditory and other stimuli.

Many behavioral and cognitive disorders are neurological

jean piaget
Jean Piaget

Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who spent thousands of hours observing and writing about children in the early and middle 20th century

Piaget’s body of research (research corpus or research programme) focused on ways in which children’s development progresses as they grow older


Piaget is best known for two major ideas that serve as fundamentals of educational psychology:

Organizational structure of the mind

Stages of childhood development

piaget organization
Piaget: Organization

Hypothesized learning is an on-going process of taking in and organizing new information

The mind is a network of nodes connected by links (much like neurons) that, together, function as frameworks for experiences and expectations. He called these schema (Woolfolk calls them “schemes”).

piaget organization1
Piaget: Organization

Schemata (plural of schema) are like “scripts” for our beliefs about certain situations

They are adaptive and help us function both in new and in frequent experiences

Piaget theorized that we all have schemata for many situations and develop them at an early age

piaget organization2
Piaget: Organization

Assimilation – fitting new information into existing schema

Accommodation – altering schema or creating new schema to fit new material

Equilibration – search for balance between existing schemata and new input

Disequilibrium – lack of balance between existing schemata and new input

Piaget hypothesized disequilibrium motivates us to engage in learning and work to establish equilibrium by means of accommodation.

piaget stages
Piaget: Stages

Sensorimotor (0-2 years)

Imitation, memory and thought develop

Recognize object permanence

Reflex to goal-directed activity

Preoperational (2-7 years)

Language acquisition and use

Symbolic thinking

Logical reasoning (A will lead to B)


piaget stages1
Piaget: Stages

Concrete operations (7-11 years)

Solve logical problems through manipulation

Laws of conservation

Understands reversibility

Formal operations (11- adult)

Abstract thinking

Scientific (logico-mathematical) reasoning

Social, multi-layered, complex thinking

piaget stages2
Piaget: Stages

Limitations of stage model

Value of stage model

What comes after formal operations?

Other terms of interest …

Object identity

Compensation (e.g. height for width)

Classification (grouping)

Seriation (sequential ordering)

Reversibility (follow thinking in multiple directions)

neo piagetian views
Neo-Piagetian Views

Case (1992/98) suggests children develop stage-wise across discrete domains, so they may advance more quickly in one domain than in another

Other ideas or explanations for Piaget’s findings?

piaget implications
Piaget: Implications

Select materials and activities appropriate to students’ comprehension abilities

Challenge students, but provide adequate support in order to ensure they are able to move fluidly from disequilibrium to equilibrium and so on.

Knowledge is constructed

Children must interact with reality in order to learn. Opportunities to manipulate (e.g. play) and apply classroom material is critical.

lev vygotsky
Lev Vygotsky

Russian psychologist (1896-1934), much of whose work was suppressed until the dissolution of the USSR

Focused on sociocultural theory, the idea that all development takes place in social settings and is therefore influenced by social forces

Developed theories as he worked to improve his own teaching and looked for ideas that might help explain and guide his experiences as an educator

sociocultural theory
Sociocultural Theory

Information is passed in two phases: interpsychologically and then intrapsycho-logically

Experiences are co-constructed; both the teacher and the learner participate in the process of knowledge acquisition or construction

role of social interaction
Role of Social Interaction

Piaget: Disequilibrium is the key to learning.

Vygotsky: Encounters with more experienced people (experts) is key to learning.

Piaget: Peer-to-peer interaction is the best source of motivation to learn.

Vygotsky: Adult or older person-to-child interactions as ideal sources of learning.

cultural tools
Cultural Tools

Tools employed in the culture, in frequent social situations (e.g. calculators, blogs, wikis, PDAs, cell phones, etc.) are critical to cognitive development

People are best able to represent their thoughts when they are familiar with commonly accepted forms of communication


Language is central to sociocultural theory because it is the primary means of information transmission between expert and learner

Private Speech vs. Egocentric Speech:

Piaget viewed egocentric speech as evidence of children’s social immaturity

Vygotsky viewed private speech as a tool for simplifying complex tasks

Have you ever found yourself talking out loud while trying to solve a difficult problem?

zone of proximal development
Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal development is known as the ZPD or Zo-Ped (common in Europe)


“Scaffolding” is the work required by the expert necessary to bring the learner from that which they are capable of doing alone to that which they are capable of doing with assistance.

It is also used to describe the act of assistance itself.


Language development is a part of the manner in which many of us learn about nuances of our culture and appropriate forms of interaction.

Those who have mastered one language are better able to learn others.

Thus, young children actually tend to learn foreign languages more slowly than children in middle childhood and adolescence.


Pronunciation, however, ought to be taught early; adolescents and older people tend to speak languages with an accent if they learned them after about age 12-14.

Your book provides an overview of language development stages in early childhood.

cultural notes
Cultural Notes

Western children seem to progress through development at different paces than non-Western children

Cognitive development and language development also seem to develop differently, though many variables must be taken into account




Vocabulary and meaning

Pragmatics (appropriate use of language)

Metalinguistic awareness

Partnership with families


Piaget and Vygotsky suggest a paradigm of cognitive development through physical and social stimulation.

Cognitive development requires sensory stimulation; high variability in sensory experiences leads to high levels of cognitive development.


Children should have opportunities to play.

Students should not be assisted with that which they are able to do by themselves; they should be assisted to achieve slightly more than they might on their own.