Review of Piaget and Cognitive Development

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Haiying Long

Indiana University in Bloomington

In this chapter, Kakali and Seungyeon use one video, two animations and several well arranged paragraphs to elaborate on Piaget’s constructivism. They mainly discuss two major principles, four key concepts, and four stages of development of Piaget’s theory and provide a cognitive perspective on learning and child development. However, many issues in it need more details, clarification and modification.

The title of “Piaget’s Constructivism” seems inaccurate to describe Piaget’s theory. First, after reading the chapter, I did not find the writers’ explanation of “what is Constructivism” and “why Piaget’s theory was labeled as Constructivism”. Second, although the entire chapter introduces Piaget’s theory, it is mainly from the perspective of cognitive development rather than from that of constructivism. I suggest that the writer change the present title into Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development.

As an introductory part of the chapter, the first section is notably brief. There are only three sentences: the first two about Piaget’s contribution to the development of learning in children, the last one the main content of the chapter: four key concepts in Piaget’s theory. But four stages of cognitive development are also examined in this chapter and even given more emphasis. Thus, they deserve mentioning in the last sentence of the introduction section.

In the section of “Two Major Principles”, “adaptation” and “organization” are discussed. However, these two are not defined as “two major principles” by Piaget himself. They are more labeled as “two functional invariants” which are “invariant in the sense that their purposes do not change over the course of development” (Goldhaber, 2000) and “to signify not only that they are stable but also that they are processes or functions rather than structures” (Thomas, 2000), or “the processes of development” as in Driscoll book (1994).

The following section explains all four key concepts: (1) assimilation, (2) accommodation, (3) equilibration, and (4) schemata. It begins with a link to a video which depicts Angie’s experience to use schema, to assimilate, to accommodate and to reach an equilibration of the knowledge in the end. This file supplements the word elaboration of these four key concepts; it helps to understand the complex concepts and adds depth and clarity to Piaget’s theory. However, to explain these four concepts, it seems that the video uses a cat-dog example rather than Angie’s experience of looking at the pictures in her childhood. I understand the video in the following way: When Angie sees the dog at the first sight, she thinks of it as a “cat.” It may be inferred upon her previous knowledge about cat, that is, the schema of cat; because the dog exactly shares some common features with cat, such as, being furry and with ears. That means Angie tries to assimilate the knowledge to her existing schema. But when the so-called cat barks, and Angie’s father tells her it is a dog, Angie feels surprised because the equilibrium in her cognition is disrupted. Then when Angie accepts her father’s concept of the dog, she begins to accommodate the new knowledge of dog to the schemata, and finally reaches the state of equilibration in her mind. Also, I think that the order of the content in this section needs improvement. The writer might have listed “Schemata” at first because it is “the basic building block of thinking” and the explanation of the other three concepts is based on its understanding. In addition, to explain equilibration, the writer quoted Duncan (1995), but I agree with Thomas (2000) more: “Piaget seems to have used it (equilibration) to mean different things at different times”. The writer can either include more references to make clear the concept of equilibration or follow the way of Thomas in his Comparing Theories of Child Development (2000) and only give a general concept of equilibration: “In general, equilibration seems to mean a process of movement toward a state of equilibrium or of balance, a state in which an organism remains until conditions upset the balance.” The last point needs mentioning is about three causal factors (1) biological maturation, (2) experience with the physical environment, and (3) experience with the social environment. They play a determinative role in “how the adaptation-organization system will operate in a given child’s development.” (Thomas, 2000), thus, the writer should examine them respectively in detail.

As a significant part of Piaget’s theory, four stages of cognitive development are brought up in this chapter. Although the writer outlines the four stages and explains some features of each stage, the description of the features is somewhat simplistic. I suggest that the writer include some details in description, and goes further to illustrate different substages. In the interpretation of preoperational stage, the writer appropriately uses the animation of “Three Mountain Problem” to further demonstrate egocentrism characteristics of children at this stage, and the words below the picture are good explanation. However, reference to the criticisms is not well-placed. These critics might be more useful in the overall criticism of Piaget’s theory. Nevertheless, since Piaget’s notion of periods of development is not limited to the stages described in the chapter, the writer can offer “other sets of stages for special aspects of cognitive growth,” for example, stages of moral development. Additional flaws and issues can be found in this section. When referring to educational implications, the writer suggests all seven ways, some of which are redundant ideas. And besides the two application implied by the writer, Piaget’s theory is conducive in other aspects of education, such as “grade placement of topics”, “the assessment of intellectual functioning” and “teaching methodology” (Thomas, 2000). It’s also necessary for the writer to specify the implication of Piaget’s theory for learning in the general sense. The next section titled “Criticism of Piaget’s Theory” is a little short and misleading to me. If the writers want to provide criticism of Piaget’s theory comprehensively, they should illustrate the shortcomings of the theory, especially using some examples to do so. After the criticism part, the schemata development is explained in animation. It exactly further illustrates schemata, but it seems irrelevant to the criticism of the theory. I think it may be better put in the section of “Four key concepts”. Another flaw of this part is that the writer only points out the criticism, but neglects the contribution of Piaget’s theory to the cognitive development. Piaget---as Robbie Case (1985) concluded--- “played the same role for intellectual development as Darwin had played for the development of the species.” His theory is pioneering in the research of cognitive development in child. Including his contribution in this part can form a complete picture of Piaget’s work.

The conclusion of the entire chapter seems as short and simple as the introduction. Readers can gather little information of Piaget’s theory from it. I think the writer can generalize the major points of Piaget’s theory so that readers can recall what the theory is mainly about from the section.

As a final summary, this chapter about Piaget’s Constructivism provides a brief idea of Piaget’s theory in his cognitive development. I find the structure clear and paragraphs well developed. Key points of the theory are discussed and supporting terms are effectively used. Readers can generally infer from the chapter the main points of Piaget’s theory, including the two major principles, four key concepts and four stages of development. The video and the animations are excellent assistants to understand complex concepts. However, some points in the chapter need additional expansion, clarification, and rearrangement. If the writer can refer to more pertinent literature and remove some misleading concepts of the theory, the chapter would be more coherent and conclusive. Also, I may hope to know more from the chapter in the following aspects: the academic background of Piaget (for instance, his experience in biology and how it influenced his future research), his special research methodology (such as the observation of children in natural settings) and the improvement of Piagetian theory in recent years, like what I have read in other books (for example, Phillips’ Perspectives on Learning (2004)).


Driscoll, M. P. (1994). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (2nd Ed). Ally and Bacon.

Goldhaber, D. E. (2000).Theories of Human Development: Integrative Perspectives. Mayfield Publishing Company.

Phillips, D. C. (2004). Perspectives on Learning (4th Ed). Columbia University.

Thomas, R. M. (2000). Comparing Theories of Child Development (5th Ed.). Wadsworth.