Friday, March 6, 2015

Essay: Piaget and Educational Psychology

This essay was originally written in 2011.

The subject of educational psychology is extremely broad, but important for future teachers to know. Educational psychology is defined as “the discipline concerned with teaching and learning processes” (Bangs, 349). There are hundreds of subtopics and psychologist that appear in the educational psychology field. The are many important names that relate to educational psychology, but nobody may be more important than Jean Piaget. Piaget believed that “children are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge but active builders of knowledge who are constantly creating and testing their own theories of the world” (Papert). Piaget brings up several key points in educational psychology, with his stages of cognitive development being the most famous.

On August 9, 1896, Jean Piaget was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland to Arthur Piaget and Rebecca Jackson. As a child, Jean Piaget was extremely bright. He had an early interest in science and published articles at a young age. Piaget graduated from the University of Neuchatel in 1918, earning a doctorate degree in science. It was not long before Piaget's interests shifted from science to genetic epistemology, as he called it. After receiving his degree, Piaget taught philosophy and psychology. “Jean Piaget was a biologist who originally studied molluscs but moved into the study of development of children's understanding, through observing them and talking and listening to them while they worked on exercises he set” (Atherton). He researched intelligent testing. “He didn't care for the 'right-or-wrong' style of the intelligent tests and started interviewing his subjects at a boys school instead, using the psychiatric interviewing techniques he had learned the year before. In other words, he began asking how children reasoned” (Boeree).

Piaget began working in Geneva with students at the Institut J.J. Rousseau. He researched the reasoning of elementary school students and later published books on his psychological findings. Piaget “became interested in the nature of thought itself, especially in the development of thinking” (Boeree). He later married Valentine Chatenay, a student co-worker of his. They had three children together, which he observed and incorporated into his works. “His particular insight was the role of maturation in children's increasing capacity to understand their world: they cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so” (Atherton). Throughout his career, Piaget was given many different positions and earned several honorary degrees.

Jean Piaget's studies led to several different theories, many in which are important terms of today's educational psychology. “He proposed that children's thinking does not develop entirely smoothly: instead, there are certain points at which it 'takes off' and moves into completely new areas and capabilities” (Atherton). This observation is now what school curriculum schedules are based on. “There are two major aspects to his theory: the process of coming to know and the stages we move through as we gradually acquire this ability” (Huitt). In the process of cognitive development, “Piaget described two processes used by the individual in its attempt to adapt: assimilation and accommodation” (Huitt). To understand assimilation and accommodation, it is important to know that schemes are “mental systems or categories of perception and experience” (Bangs, 34). Many of Piaget's terms concern schemes. Assimilation is “fitting new information into [these] existing schemes,” while accommodation is “altering the existing schemes or creating new ones in response to new information” (Bangs, 35). These terms relate to adaptation, or “adjustment to the environment” (Bangs, 34). Other terms that Piaget defined were equilibration and disequilibration. Equilibration is the “search for mental balance between cognitive schemes and information from the environment.” The result of equilibration is equilibrium. Disequilibration is “the 'out-of-balance' state that occurs when a person realizes that his or her current ways of thinking are not working to solve a problem or understand a situation” (Bangs, 35). Piaget defined several terms that appear in educational psychology, but these terms are the most famous.

Jean Piaget is most famous for his stages of development. The four stages are sensori-motor, pre-operational, concrete-operational, and formal operations. Each stage falls under a different range of ages and has different traits. The first stage is sensori-motor, which starts at birth and ends at the age of two. This is known as the world of objects. “The infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning with reflexes and ending with complex combinations of sensorimotor skills” (Boeree). During this stage, coordination of sense information and motor skills develop. Goal directed activities begin. There is adjustment physically to the environment and object performance is accomplished. In addition, egocentrism, circularity, and imitation is present, but there is an inability to use language.

The pre-operational stage can also be referred to as the world of objects. This has to do with logical thought. Typically, this stage is for children aging two to seven, where they can not think logically. Instead, it is a semiotic function, which is the use of symbols. The children start to internalize actions and seriate, or “[arrange] objects in sequential order according to one aspect” (Bangs, 354). However, they can't conserve, decenter, reverse, or classify. Because they are unable to do these type of things, there are suggestions that teachers can use for pre-operational children. They can check for the meaning that the little kids invest in their words. They can have a wide range of experiences and concrete examples. It is important not to lecture, ask the children to demonstrate, read aloud, and get everybody in on in the act. Repetition and drill, such as rhymes, jingles, and over-learning could make an impact. It is key to ask not only yes or no questions, but who, what, when, where, why, and which questions. There are some limitations to Piaget's theory in the first two stages: it tends to underestimate younger individual's thinking capacities and overlooks their social implications. In addition, the pre-operational stage focuses too much on what children cannot do.

The third stage is concrete-operational, or the world of results. Those who are from seven to eleven years of age fall under this category. “Intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. Operational thinking develops. Egocentric thought diminishes” (Huitt). They can coordinate separate schemes into higher ones. Unlike the pre-operational stage, those in the concrete-operational stage can conserve, reverse, classify, decenter, and seriate. On the other hand, they may have difficulty with abstractions. Some implications for this stage are giving assignments that require logical thinking, avoiding lengthy lectures, and use concrete personal examples. Participatory democracy, props, and letting them talk continuously could help. A defect to this theories stage is that “many children manage concrete operations earlier than [Piaget] thought” (Atherton).

The final stage is known as formal operations, which affects those twelve and older. This is the world of possibilities. Hypothetical-deductive reasoning takes place here. People can now understand that all things are equal. Additionally, they understand “what-if” questions. Those in this stage must consider all alternatives and identity combinations. One limitation to this stage is that it may overestimate the formal thinking of adolescence. “Some people never attain formal operations” (Atherton). Overall, the four distinct stages may be an oversimplification and may artificially separate groups of children.

Piaget's theory contains seven characteristics, according to notes provided by Arthur Bangs. First, it is not simply method oriented. Instead, it is goal setting. Second, it is thinking over learning, which means it is constructive, but not interacting. Third, it is analytical and involves intellectual growth through the application of thinking at high levels. It is not based vaguely on experience. Fourth, it is language transcending, which means that the thinking begins before the language goes too far. Language is not controlled. Fifth, it is internal as the child provide his or her own motivation. Motivation is not external. Sixth, intelligence is always active. It is coextensive with all areas of life. Finally, in each individual, there are differences withing a clear developmental prospective. It is not strictly to an increasing knowledge.

Jean Piaget greatly influenced the study of educational psychology. “The core of Piaget is his belief that looking carefully at how knowledge develops in children will elucidate the nature of knowledge in general” (Papert). Piaget's interest in educational psychology turned into many theories that are still applied today. Piaget is most famous for his four cognitive stages of development: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete-operational, and formal operational. It is extremely important that teachers know these stages so they're aware of what students are capable of doing. Thanks to Piaget's steps, teachers can find ways to help students.

Works Cited

Atherton, J. S. "Piaget's Developmental Theory." Learning and Teaching. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.

Bangs, Arthur J. Education. Pearson Custom, 2009. Print.

Boeree, C. George. "Jean Piaget." Personality Theories. 2006. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.

Huitt, W., and J. Hummel. "Cognitive Development." Educational Psychology Interactive. 2003. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.

Papert, Seymour. "Child Psychlogist: Jean Piaget." Time: 105-06. Web


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  5. Piaget brings up several key points in educational psychology, with his stages of cognitive development being the most famous.