Walsh_6
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Walsh_6

Course Number: CI 421, Fall 2008

College/University: University of Illinois,...

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Walsh_6 1 Post-Piagetian Perspectives: Implications for Early Schooling Early childhood education in the twentieth century was greatly influenced by developmental psychology. Over the past three or four decades, the Piagetian conception of development was prevalent in the field. Piaget's theory has been used to develop many curricula for young children, often reflecting a different interpretation (e.g., Forman...

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Perspectives: Walsh_6 1 Post-Piagetian Implications for Early Schooling Early childhood education in the twentieth century was greatly influenced by developmental psychology. Over the past three or four decades, the Piagetian conception of development was prevalent in the field. Piaget's theory has been used to develop many curricula for young children, often reflecting a different interpretation (e.g., Forman & Hill, 1980; Furth & Wachs, 1975; Kamii & DeVries, 1978; Lavatelli, 1970; Weikart, Rogers. Adcock, & McClelland, 1971). Many developmentalists, however, have pointed out the limitation of Piaget's theory, for example,. Ann Brown, Jerome Bruner, Margaret Donaldson, Rochelle Gelman, Helen Haste, Giyoo Hatano, Kayoko Inagaki, Jean Lave, Barbara Rogoff, and Roland Tharp. These "post-Piagetians" all support Piaget's constructivism, but are critical of other aspects of his theory. Many of these scholars have been strongly influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky. Post-Piagetian perspective have not, however, found their way into the discourse of early child hood education, which for the most part still remains Piagetian. In this paper, I want to explore some post-Piagetian ideas and their implications for early schooling. I look at five areas: first, learning leading development; second, social construction ; third, the use of the cultural tool kit; fourth, the domain specific development; and finally, making human sense. Learning Leading Development One aspect of Piaget's theory that has profoundly affected early schooling is his view of the relationship between learning and development. For Piaget learning has little influence on children's cognitive development (Vygotsky, 1978). This view has often been mixed with maturationist views, that is the belief that development is a function of biology and that each child comes with an built- in matura tional clock which dictates when she will be able to do something. The result is that many people in early childhood use Piagetian terminology but, in practice, are more concerned with biological matur ation than the equilibration or self-regulatory process in development (Walsh, 1991). As a result, Pia- get's theory has been frequently reduced to readiness. Waiting for readiness, early childhood teachers are often inclined to teach children what they already know and are able to do (Walsh, 1992). Vygotsky (1978), however, claimed that learning leads development. He argued that "properly organized learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning" (p. 90). The importance of learning for development is projected through his notion of the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD). The Zone of Proximal Development For Vygotsky (1978), if we want to understand how children's development affects their learning, we should consider two different developmental levels: the actual developmental level and the ZPD. Vygotsky defines the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by in dependent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p. 86). Critiquing learning that is oriented toward what children can already do, Vygotsky (1934/1986) argued: What the child can do in cooperation today he can do alone tomorrow. Therefore the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it ... It remains necessary to determine the lowest threshold at which instruction in, say, arithmetic may begin, since a certain minimal ripeness of functions is required. But we must consider the upper threshold as well; instruction must be oriented toward the future, not the past. (pp. 188-189) The implication this of notion of the ZPD is that learning activities should be slightly ahead of children's "actual" development and challenge children intellectually and otherwise. Vygotsky stated, "Instruction is only useful when it moves ahead of development. When it does, it impells or wakens a whole series of functions that are in a stage of maturation lying in the zone of proximal development" (p. 212, 1987, emphasis in original). This instruction is not the same as "pushing" the child ahead. Helping children work in the ZPD requires sensitive support from the adult and /or more capable peers. The need and importance of other people' support in the ZPD is explained through the notion of Walsh_6 3 "scaffolding." Scaffolding Scaffolding "enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts" (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976, p. 90). The notion of scaffold ing stresses that the support and structure necessary in learning activities should be sensitively adjusted to children's needs (Berk & Winsler, 1995) and continuously revised to respond to their progress (Rogoff, 1990). Rogoff (1990) emphasized that effective structuring of children's learning activities requires the adult to carefully monitor when children need help and when they need the freedom to work independently. According to Griffin and Cole (1984), changes in the adult's scaffolding not only mean providing different amounts of support, but also providing qualitatively different kinds of support. Wood (1980) suggests that "the more difficulty the child has in achieving a goal, the more directive the interventions of the [adult] should be" (p. 284, as cited in Griffin & Cole, p. 47). Greenfield (1984) argues that in the process of scaffolding the teacher should maintain the diffi culty of the task but simplify the learner's role through assistance. The critical idea here is that "[s]tructuring does not focus on breaking a task into minutely ordered steps to be mastered in a lockstep fashion" (Rogoff, 1990, p. 94). Instead, effective structuring of an activity should allow the child to see the overall process and purpose of the activity while participating in a manageable and supported form...
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