Piaget suggested that one way to reconcile these two approaches would be to adopt a method clinique, whereby a traditional intelligence test could serve as the basis for a clinical interview (Indiana.edu. 2006). Piaget's work has influenced other educators and philosophers who share the same respect for children. Examples are John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Paulo Freire, who have fought harder for immediate change in schools. Additionally, Piaget has been revered by generations of teachers inspired by the belief that children are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge but active builders of knowledge, and little scientists who are constantly creating and testing their own theories of the world (Pappert, 1999).
Piaget's key concepts that have influenced educational reform are as follows: 1). Children will provide different explanations of reality at different stages of cognitive development; 2). Cognitive development is facilitated by providing activities or situations that engage learners and require adaptation (i.e., assimilation and accommodation); 3). Learning materials and activities should involve the appropriate level of motor or mental operations for a child of given age; avoid asking students to perform tasks that are beyond their current cognitive capabilities; and 4). Use teaching methods that actively involve students and present challenges. These concepts have been applied in education and teaching throughout the world.
A review of the research on Piaget's theory indicates that a great number of pre-school and primary programs are modeled on his theory. Learning theories that have emerged out of Piaget's analysis of children are constructivist learning and discovery learning. Both of these forms of learning are taught by teachers that challenge the child's abilities, but do not present material or information that is too far beyond the child's level. A review of the literature in this area recommends that teachers use a wide variety of concrete experiences to help the child learn, such as the use of manipulatives and working in groups to get experience seeing from another's perspective (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). One such method based on Piaget's model of the manner in which young children learn is the building of literacy skills through storybook reading.
In one such study, different strategies were tested to determine the best way to teach children how to read at an early age through the use of storybooks. Research indicates that oral language consists of vocabulary and narrative development, phonological awareness is the understanding that oral language is made up of sounds or groups, and print awareness can best be described as the knowledge that print corresponds to speech, and the manner in which individuals read. Piaget's model of stages has been applied to assist teachers in the method that they use to facilitate the development of oral language, phonological awareness and print awareness through purposeful, fun, age and developmentally appropriate, storybook reading. For example, one study found that providing direct instruction of phonological awareness skills using words found in storybooks has two advantages: its assists children in understanding how phonetics, or the way in which words are pronounced, relates to print, and the use of familiar storybooks can serve to motivate the children, resulting in more reading (Allor & McCathren, 2003).
The study included an observation checklist to assist teachers when they are observing or grading the children based on Piaget's teachings. The list included such checklist items as: sentence length identification, identification of the compound words that are made up of smaller words, recognition of syllables, and correct pronunciation of three phoneme words. The study mentioned that these observations include knowing the difference between graphic displays of words and nonwords, understanding the function of empty space in establishing words boundaries, and understanding that reading occurs from right to left and top to bottom (Allor & McCathren, 2003). The study also takes into consideration the recognition of visual shapes of letters before reading, as well as the fact that letters can be exposed in different ways, such as by the use of blocks and magnetic letters. The study discusses how storybook reading can be used by teachers to facilitate learning in early students. Allor & McCathren (2003) discuss how storybook preview is used to introduce a new book or a follow up activity, and consists of teacher interaction with a small group of students. This method follows Piaget's understanding of the manner in which children learn, because the teachers are able to interact effectively with students, responding to and expanding on each child's language. All of these skills will assist the child in being able to read and understand what is read, in a manner that is fun and interesting. Furthermore, each step builds on the next step, much as in Piaget's model of stages. This study provides only one manner in which Piaget's theory has been successfully applied to the learning of children.
Criticisms of Piaget's Model
Although Piaget's model has been widely implemented in educational reform measures, in the late 1980's his theories began to lose their strength with the emergence of new forms of research. Studies have disagreed with the model of the transgression of stages presented by Piaget. For example, data from cross-sectional studies of adolescents do not support the assertion that all individuals will automatically move to the next cognitive stage as they biologically mature (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). In one such criticized study, data from adolescent populations indicates only 30 to 35% of high school seniors attain the cognitive development stage of formal operations (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). For formal operations, it appears that maturation establishes the basis, but a special environment is required for most adolescents and adults to attain this stage (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). This and other studies have criticized Piaget's model, mainly along the basis that maturation and learning do not occur in set stages. This makes sense because there are children of different ages that can complete different tasks as a result of their environment, not as a result of the manner in which they learn or are taught.
Piaget did note in his four stages that genetic constructivism was a factor in the rate and manner in which children learn, and as new genetic discoveries are made, his stages will either become modified or expanded on. Although other philosophers have explained growth and learning in stages, Piaget's stages were very different when they were first introduced and even new theories may be built on them in the future. Finally, although Piaget's theory of cognitive development has appeared to lose its momentum as a new philosophy in recent years, his contributions to the education of children are far-reaching. Modern theorists in this area will no doubt build on the stages set out by Piaget, perhaps improving his reasoning behind his theory. Education reform has only begun in many countries, so the availability and the potential for further studies in this area is very great. Limitations exist in the study of Piaget's method of standardized testing, and one area for further development in cognitive psychology could be further tests on his model of standardized testing. Finally, Piaget's model of learning will always be a part of educational reform now and for future generations of thinkers.
Allor & McCathren. (2003). Developing Emergent Literacy Skills through Storybook Reading. Intervention in School and Clinic, 39(2).
Huitt, W. & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget's Development of Cognitive Development.