Cognitive development is the process that enables human beings to acquire knowledge and learn to organize and use it (Gauvain & Richert, 2016). Marwaha et al. (2017) defined cognitive as a term that refers to understanding or knowing something and argued that a great range of mental capabilities of humans are included here. The authors also defined cognitive development as a form of mental development that combines intelligence, perception, recognition, recalling of events, and application of reasoning to interpret information. According to Keating (2011), Jean Piaget was the founder of cognitive development theories.

Keating discussed that Piaget’s theory inspired studies into the actual differences in the reasoning abilities of adolescents from those of children and even adults. Ranjitkar et al. (2019) explained that the first 1,000 days since the day a child is born are crucial for cognitive development. According to these authors, any brain impairments caused by biological and/or psychosocial factors may affect the functional and structural brain features as well as cognitive function. Vallotton and Fischer (2008) explained that cognitive development involves several different skills nurtured under varying rates throughout the trajectories that result in unique endpoints of development.

The endpoints interact and integrate with each other to form complex behaviour. Ranjitkar et al. (2019) identified a number of factors that affect cognitive development in early childhood, including lower stimulation, malnutrition, and poor quality of learning environment. The authors argued that several biological risks lead to poor cognitive functions in children. Examples of the biological risks affecting children in low-to-medium income categories include the below average birth weight, anaemia, illnesses (diarrhoea) and short gestational period.

Theoretical Perspective(s) of Piaget’s Theory

Jean Piaget’s theory is among the most popular cognitive development theories. Piaget’s theory identifies four stages of cognitive development, which include: sensorimotor, birth to 2 years; preoperational, ages 2 to seven; concrete operational, seven to 11 years old; and the formal operational levels, from 11 throughout adolescence (Babakr et al., 2019). In Piaget’s perspective, all children pass through these stages and the process causes qualitative change in the cognitive ability of the children. Piaget believed that children from different environments and cultures go through this continuous sequence of cognitive development.

In the sensorimotor stage, birth to around two years of age, the sensor activity helps a child to understand objects. Children develop object permanence at this stage but this capability disappears at 8 months of age when the young ones begin handling objects physically. Basing on Piaget’s theory, Babakr and colleagues explained that three vital developments happen by the end of sensorimotor stage. One, by 2 years, a child is capable of using short meaningful sentences to express themselves. Two, children become capable of deferred imitation or develop the ability to imitate what other people do. Lastly, imagination and the capacity to represent symbols are attained.

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On the other hand, the preoperational stage is chacharacterizedracterised by the use of signs and symbols or semiotic function to present thoughts. Scott and Cogburn (2021) identify the main features of this phase of cognitive development as mental pictures, symbolic play, use of verbal expressions to elaborate events, imitation (deferred), and drawing. In other words, at this stage, the child develops the ability to recall events and imitate them later on, starts to play pretend games, and begins drawing or making graphic images that represent the objects seen in the child’s world. These behaviours become more complex as the child develops, meaning that their perceptions become more advanced. During this stage, Scott and Cogburn explained that a child is likely to ask adults to name particular objects from time to time because they are trying to link mental images with actual identities.

The concrete stage is what comes afterward. Here, children learn the use of logic rules relating to the various tangible objects as their brains conduct the modification of visual impressions and sounds. Scott and Cogburn (2021) indicated that a key lesson from this stage is the recognition of the conservation concept, as the values are sustained during the visual transformation process. For example, when transferring liquid from a smaller container to a bigger one, the child unknowingly believes that the amount of the liquid did not change. This unconsciously learned feature develops so much that a child later begins to apply the rule to more complex concepts. For instance, when transferring liquid from a rectangular container to a triangular one, the child notices that the liquid remained the same but the shape of the container changed.

The last stage, formal operations, comprises all the behaviours observed in adolescents. Generally, this phase of cognitive development begins when a child is 11 years old and continues into adulthood (Scott & Cogburn, 2021). Adolescents usually master the application of logic rules when dealing with abstract concepts, assess the environment, and progress to problem-solving, at this stage. The main thought processes resulting from this stage include separation of variables and evaluation of combinations, hypothetical-deductive thinking, and propositional thinking. Using the hypothetical-deductive thought system, an adolescent picks information from the real world and synthesises it into singular forms so it is testable to enable finding of solutions through accurate reasoning. With propositional thought, on the other hand, an adolescent manipulates several variables to find results without running any tests on the specific variables.

Despite its popularity, some users still criticise Piaget’s theory. According to Babakr et al. (2019), one of the shortcomings of this theory is how it overemphaoveremphasizessises the capabilities of adolescents while failing to fully acknowledge the abilities of the infants. Another limitation is how is the disregard for the influence of cultural and social factors that influence the development of a child’s cognition and reasoning ability. Babakr et al. (2019) also argued that the fact that Piaget studied his own children to come up with the arguments stated in this theory makes it biased.

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Theoretical Perspective and Teaching Pedagogy

Piaget’s theory has a significant contribution to the science of children’s development. The theory aids the understanding of the education process and how cognition transitions into psychology. A notable aspect of Piaget’s theory is the belief that knowledge is not innate. According to Scott and Cogburn (2021), Piaget believed that children’s understanding of the world develops over time, as they interact with the world. As Piaget observed children, he noticed that they were capable of creating ideas on their own. In other words, children learn from their parents and teachers but still construct their own knowledge. In the classroom, recognising the ability of children to construct knowledge and learn through creation of artefacts or products. The artefacts need to be relevant and make meaning for successful completion of the learning process. These are useful stages that children should go through in their process of cognitive development and it is essential that no stage is skipped. There is need, however, for educators to expect children to exhibit behaviours that are more advanced than the stage they are in.

Marwaha et al. (2017) argued that a key aspect of Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory is that a child is incapable of developing thoughts similar to those of an adult. With the understanding that a child cannot process and apply information in the way adults do, Piaget’s theory now calls upon adults to determine a child’s intellectual level and remember this during communication. The cognitive development theory by Piaget helps the educators to create content consistent with cognitive development of each learner. When the teacher’s approach to teaching opens a wide range of learning opportunities for the students, the discovery process is encouraged. This also speeds understanding of new factors. In particular, practical activities should be incorporated in the learning process at this stage. These teaching and learning methods involve the use of visual aids to solve sophisticated issues such as math problems.

As Blake and Pope (2008) argued, a teacher that employs Piaget’s theory in the classroom develops a better understanding of how their students think, and in turn align the teaching approaches to match the cognitive level of the students. The teaching approaches that may be aligned in this way include the motivational aspects, modelling, and issuing of assignments. Such strategies aid students with construction of knowledge. An area of emphasis when applying the theory in an educational context is the conservation of consistency (Scott & Cogburn, 2021). This concept enables students to take note of relationships and derive meaning from physical as well as abstract information. It is the duty of educators to develop, adopt, and evaluate the curriculum they teach based on the ability of the learners to conserve consistency. Conserving consistencies expands the concrete sensory data and interpretation of information through ease of abstract thinking that aids planning and problem-solution. One way children widely develop conservation consistency is through completing chores and playing games, especially in the ages of seven to eight years (Blake and Pope, 2008). This, particularly, happens when children learn the similarities and differences of multiple objects. Visualisation and reflective understanding are essential in development of conservation consistency.

Reflection: My Teaching Philosophy, Pedagogy and Personal Experience

Looking at my teaching approach, it is clear that developmental theories play a key role in the classroom. In many instances, I have had to prepare a number courses on childhood development to help me understand my students’ cognitive development level. During such preparations, I have also had to consult psychological perspectives to find out if my students’ cognitive level is actually where it needs to be. In most cases, I focus on emotional and the social lives of the children. I now realise that my attention on the ability of learners to process information and changes that happen overtime are actually directly linked to Piaget’s cognitive development model.

After reading carefully about this theory, I understand that I should concentrate more on techniques that help me and my student in teaching and learning new skills and concepts. I will, particularly, apply the assimilation and accommodation notions of Piaget’s theory whenever I introduce new topics and educational materials. I believe that this approach will enable learners to apply what they already learned when dealing with new ideas, so they find the connection between the points and understand new concepts better.

I have also learnt that the age of students’ is important as far as ability to understand academic topics and activities is concerned. For instance, in a pre-school classroom, I will introduce learning materials or use teaching approaches that require the children to apply logic. Instead, I will focus on programs that match their egocentric and intuitive thoughts and behaviours. Students’ interactions and lesson forms should as well fit in the children’s line or thinking. As time passes, I will then engage the students in more abstract reasoning while minimising the egocentric concepts and incorporating more complex language skills.

At this point too, I will acknowledge the differences in children’s learning and ensure to encourage the ones that do not adapt the new complex concepts quickly. I will still apply students’ assessments at concrete, preoperational, and formal operational stages to always take note of where the students’ cognitive development lies and if it is appropriate as far as their ages are concerned. Findings from such assessments will help me when assisting learners to transition from one stage to the next. Given that educational concepts get more complex from one stage to the next, applying Piaget’s model will help me to employ adaptation tools that aid students in easily acquiring new skills and knowledge.  

While incorporating the aspects of Piaget’s cognitive development theory in my philosophical and pedagogical practices, I will remain aware of the weaknesses of the theory. In particular, I will pay close attention to the fact that the theory underestimates the ability of young children to learn. For instance, I will not discourage young children from exercising their non-egocentric behaviours and thoughts.

Other than age, I will also take note of how the environment and background of each child affect their cognitive development. While my main role is to mentor the children, I will encourage the students to take active roles and learn from peers. I believe these alternative learning strategies will help to reveal the real potential of children and boost their cognitive development.