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Piagetian Programs

Author: Pencil Case  Date: 24 September 2020

Current position on John Hattie's list of student achievement influences: 6

Effect size: 1.28

Definition of a Piagetian program

A Piagetian program means conducting your teaching and assessment in a way that matches the four developmental stages identified by Jean Piaget.

Piagetian programs have a large effect size because students are taught and assessed based on the four stages of development suggested by Piaget are able to develop and show their capability in a way that is developmentally appropriate.

The four stages of a Piagetian program

1. Sensorimotor stage: from birth to age two.

Children from the age of birth to two are in the sensorimotor stage according to Piaget. Children in the stage are starting to verbalise and move but are highly egocentric meaning they believe that everyone sees the world as they do. A Piagetian Program at this age involves movement, sensation and concrete concepts. This stage does not use abstract concepts such as problem solving or symbols. A Piagetian program in the sensorimotor stage would involve providing children with opportunities to move their body through crawling, walking, grasping, jumping etc. Children would be assessed based on the development of the physical skills. Children would experience new sensations such as touching a soft or hard toy. Assessment could involve asking a child to perform concrete tasks such as to hand you the soft toy or the bigger toy.

An example of a non Piagetian Program could involve showing a child 2 blocks and 3 blocks and asking them how many blocks are there altogether. It would be easy to say that this child is behind because they can't add up. At this stage the child would likely not have the language or concept of number required to complete this challenge.

2. Preoperational stage: from ages two to seven.

Children aged 2 to 7 are in the preoperational stage. In this stage, children learn predominantly through imaginative play. Therefore, a Piagetian program would involve the 5 year old child feeding "carrots" (perhaps counters, sticks or tokens) to toy rabbits. The child may be asked to count the number of rabbits or the number of counters fed. Because this activity matches the Piagetian stage of development the child has a high chance of success. The teacher would teach the child to count by "feeding rabbits" and would assess the child's ability to count while "feeding rabbits". Once mastered, the teacher may move to more abstract activities such as counting the tokens with no rabbit.

This contrasts to a non Piagetian Program. Giving a 5 year old student a page of written sums falls outside the preoperational stage. It would be possible to say, "this child is weak at maths because they cannot complete a page of written sums". Because, according to Piaget, this activity is developmentally inappropriate the child will be unable to achieve success appropriate to the developmental stage.

3. Concrete operational stage: from ages seven to eleven.

In the concrete operational stage, children can start to apply some abstract thinking but this is limited by the concrete world. For example, a child may happily and accurately add values up to ten by counting on their fingers but a sum like six plus five will be more challenging. Because the answer to six plus five is eleven, and the child only has 10 fingers, cognition has to leave the concrete world and enter the abstract. In this stage, a Piagetian Program should always be based in the concrete realm. An example of a Piagetian Program would be to ask a child to complete some maths sums but with enough counters/beads/tokens etc. and enough time available to work out the sum in a concrete way. A Piagetian Program for writing would use the concept of concreteness by asking the student to write about things they can see, touch or have experienced.

A non Piagetian Approach would be to give all students a page of sums with no concrete aides. Some students will have the mental processes available to succeed and other will not. This approach is non Piagetian because some of the children could have achieved success and correctly calculated the answer if they were encouraged to use concrete counting aides.

4. Formal operational stage: from age eleven to sixteen and onwards.

In this stage, students start to develop abstract thinking. "Meta Thinking" or thinking about the way you think allows the acquisition of abstract ideas. However, Piaget argued that the acquisition of abstract reasoning is not automatic. Students may remain in the concrete operational stage until supported, educated and encouraged to leave it. As such, a Piagetian Program at this stage would provide ample opportunity for concrete learning but would provide the skills and motivation for a student to move on. For example, a maths teacher may allow students to continue counting on their fingers initially, but would then give the student the confidence to add without concrete counting. An art teacher may have students paint a piece of fruit on a table, but then have them paint a piece of fruit that would exist on another planet.

A non Piagetian Program would have students achieve success or failure by only teaching and assessing in an abstract way without the appropriate skills and scaffolding to move from concrete to abstract.

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