What evidence do you see of specific teacher behaviors that are geared toward Piaget’s theories about cognitive development? Cite specific examples and make clear connection to Piaget’s work. Be thorough in your coverage of the theory, addressing multiple concepts (e.g., stages of development, process of adaptation/equilibration) to demonstrate your understanding. Be sure to include a reference in your response.
This week I observed Mrs. G. teach two excellent lessons, both utilizing Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development.
In Mrs. G.’s 12th grade class, the students are in the formal operational stage, though like most adults they still need some concrete experiences before fully moving into reasoning abstractly.
This week, students had just finished the nonfiction novel In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The ending of this book—and the entire book itself—caused disequilibrium among the students because Capote presented them with not only new ideas but a completely new genre they had not encountered before. In Cold Blood is neither a novel nor a nonfiction text; Capote created a new genre of literature.
Mrs. G. recognized that the end of the book would cause disequilibrium and would require students to do some adapting so they could construct new knowledge. She used a variety of strategies to facilitate this adaptation.
Moving Through Adaptation
First, she used a free write exercise for students to respond to a prompt about fiction v. nonfiction. This gave students a chance to use reasoning—a scheme of the formal operational stage—to logically deduce, compare/contrast, and even use personal experience—a scheme of the concrete operational stage—to assimilate and accommodate on their own.
Then, Mrs. G. had students talk in small groups about their thoughts. They began to assimilate In Cold Blood into their existing schemata about literature, novels, nonfiction, etc. They also started to accommodate In Cold Blood by creating new schema.
Finally, Mrs. G. used a group discussion with specific, targeted questions to help students restore equilibrium, complete the adaption process, and construct new knowledge.
During the discussion, Mrs. G. specifically pointed out that In Cold Blood was intended to be a new kind of genre of literature. This helped the students to recognize that the book wasn’t going to totally fit into their existing schema—even though it shared some similarities with their existing ideas—and that to completely make sense of the book they would need to accommodate it by building an entirely new schema for the nonfiction novel.
Mrs. G. didn’t project her own understanding of the genre on the students. In thinking about the nonfiction novel, there is a correct definition of the genre, and Mrs. G. knew where she wanted students to end up in their thinking. However, she let the students explore on their own through all three parts of her lesson.
One author offered two suggestions for adaption-friendly teaching: First, encourage self-direction. The author stated: “Students will naturally seek out ideas that either align with their own . . . or may be less alarmed to encounter competing thoughts on their own terms.” Mrs. G. used this understanding of adaptation to allow students time to work independently and confront the disequilibrium “on their own terms.” Second, don’t project what—and how—you understand on students. The author goes on to say, “What ‘makes sense’ to you is powerful . . . but it’s based on your own schema, scale, and timeline. Learning is different for everyone.”
Mrs. G. recognized that each student’s schema are different, and that each student is at a different place in their cognitive development. She allowed students to make their own connections and new definitions, ensuring that each student assimilated and accommodated the new information in a way that makes sense to them.
Encouraging Abstract Reasoning
In Mrs. G.’s 10th grade class, students are also in the formal operational stage, though their reasoning is not quite as well-honed as the older students. They use the scheme of abstract reasoning well, and Mrs. G. once again used Piaget’s theory to help students construct new knowledge.
Students have just finished reading The Scarlet Letter, and last week they worked on an activity about how characters in the novel label each other and themselves. In class, Mrs. G. used an article about the pros and cons of labeling to cause disequilibrium. Students were presented with new information about labels and had to adapt it into their existing schema.
Mrs. G. used a class roundtable discussion to help students assimilate and accommodate the new information. Mrs. G. used specific questions to help students first accommodate the new information by recognizing that not all labels are bad. She encouraged them continue to build new schema by talking about the idea that labels can be positive, but still have negative effects. Mrs. G. encouraged students to use abstract reasoning to imagine positive labels and some negative consequences of those positive labels. Students were developmentally ready to use abstract reasoning—a cognitive operation common in the formal operational stage—to construct new meaning and expand their schema.
Using Fisher’s Three Tiers
Mrs. G. also moved through Fisher’s three tiers to help students accommodate new information. In class, Mrs. G. used representations of information—text, visual aids—to discuss labeling. They also talked about previous hands-on experiences they had relating to labeling. After class, students were to take action by watching for labels that people around them were using to describe others. Mrs. G. also used hypothetical questions and situations—abstractions—to further help students accommodate and assimilate the new information about labeling.
This lesson was designed as the second in a group of three lessons all about labeling, so by the end of the third lesson, Mrs. G. had used hands-on experience, visual aids, group discussions, reading assignments, and partner discussions to help students assimilate and accommodate. She used these strategies to help them move fully into the formal operational stage, restore equilibrium and construct new knowledge.