DE300: Investigating Psychology 3: Developmental psychology: cognitive development and epistemologies

Chapter 5 Developmental psychology: cognitive development and epistemologies runs to around 40 pages and is one of the chapters for TMA3. It will have a fairly familiar feel for anyone who has done one of the child development modules.

Introduction gives a very brief overview of how diverse the fields of study are in developmental psychology and equally how diverse the methods used are.

Piagetian and Vygotskian perspectives on cognitive development. A Piagetian perspective introduces Piaget’s constructivist approach built on the idea that children construct their understanding of the world by way of developing schemas and take place over a number of stages in their lives. So, we have from 1-4 months primary circular reactions (i.e. repetitive motions centred on themselves), from 4-8 months secondary circular motions (i.e. repetitive motions with effects away from their body) and from 12-18 months tertiary circular reactions which are experimental in nature. His theory is based on the idea that all children in all cultures will process through a series of stages in their lives: birth to 2 years sensorimotor (developing object permanence), 2-7 years preoperational (use of language to represent objects), 7-11 years concrete operational (logical reasoning, mastering conservation), 11-18 years formal operational (logical thought applied to abstract ideas). This implies that play is an important element in development although the relationship between play and guided play differs between cultures. Criticism of this approach comes from many angles in particular that individual children can be at different stages in different domains at any given point in their lives. Piagetian methods illustrates the development of his ideas through his work with Binet on IQ scales where he was interested in the errors that children made and in particular the systematic way in which this happened. He noted that children weren’t miniature adults and emphasised the idea that children needed to be allowed to talk freely in research, avoiding too many questions but rather allowing them to elaborate on their thinking: moving towards open-ended questions and semi-structured interviews. His three mountains task (Piaget, 1969) illustrated the egocentric nature of children and is difficult for 4-5 year olds but easy enough at 9-10. Other tasks were around conservation of mass, volume and number which proved difficult before around 7 (i.e. at preoperational stage) as are class inclusion problems (e.g. are there more red flowers or more flowers in a bunch of red and yellow flowers)(Goswami, 2014). He didn’t consider the effects of peers and the social situation on learning until much later nor did he consider the human sense aspect (e.g. hiding from a policeman variant of the three mountains task and similar variants of the conservation tasks [Donaldson, 1983]). A Vygotskian perspective takes a social-constructivist approach developing using the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and scaffolding of learning: cultural tools together with social interaction produce the skills and abilities that we see. Vygotskian methods presented problems for children to solve but with the addition of cues e.g. The blocks test asks children to sort blocks into categories with odd names and observes how they develop the meaning of the categorisation. Children’s self-talk explores how Vygotsky saw the disappearance of self-talk around 4-7 represented the internalisation of the concepts. This generally reappears when difficult tasks are encountered even later in life (Smith, 2007). Social-constructivist interventions Looking at talk within classrooms, Lyle (2008) noted that 90% of it consisted of closed responses in the Initiate, Response, Feedback pattern. Mercer (1995) considered the types of interactions that were used, with Warwick (2013) finding that exploratory talk was the most useful. Mercer (2014) went on to develop interventions aiming to teach the styles of speech that were required to develop collaborative working. Mercer (2006) found that these interventions improved their performance over a range of topic areas i.e. as Vygotsky would have it, developing their social skills affected their thinking skills more generally.

Measuring beliefs about epistemology begins by highlighting the teachers’s beliefs about epistemology affect how they teach. Thus a Piagetian approach will assume that children develop in set stages whilst a Vygotskyian one will emphasise social learning. Self-report questionnaires are generally used to explore the impact of these beliefs. Self-report questionnaires are developed starting from a literature review before a pilot then moving on to factor analysis. Epistemological Questionnaire (EQ) (Schommer, 1990) used a Likert scale on a range of questions such as ‘Successful students understand things quickly.’ From this, the factor analysis came up with four factors with good reliability: Fixed ability, Simple knowledge, Quick learning and Certain knowledge. Hofer’s Epistemological Beliefs Questionnaire (EBQ) groups the factors into the nature of knowing (what knowledge is: the certainty and simplicity of knowledge) and the process of knowing (how you come to understand knowledge: the source and justification of knowledge). Erdamar and Alpan (2013) used this to consider the belief systems: fixed and certain, coming from authority figures through to complex and the need to put effort into learning. However, Schraw (2013) found that the EQ didn’t cover everything and seemed to be and went on to develop Epistemic Beliefs Inventory (EBI) to address the shortcomings. Others such as Tümkaya (2012) have gone on to add demographic and personal details producing a three factor model: ‘the belief concerning that learning depends on effort’, ‘the belief concerning that learning depends on ability’, and ‘the belief concerning that there is one unchanging truth’. As always, there is a cultural element to this and Chi-Kin Lee (2013) using EQ in China found an authority/expert factor not in the original EQ. What is culture though? Tümkaya (2012) considered university students from different faculties finding that social science students emphasised the importance of learning on effort and context whilst medical students emphasised innate ability. The case of inclusive education introduces the idea of key word signing as a way of supporting the communication skills of those with severe learning difficulties e.g. the use of Signalong which is based on British Sign Language. This is key word signing rather than a fully developed sign language. Some evidence suggests that a social-constructivist approach works best in inclusive class rooms (Mercer, 2009) which in turn implies that those teachers would have an epistemology of social-constructivism but few studies have considered this (Florian and Black-Hawkins, 2011). Sheehy and Budiyanto (2014) considered this in Indonesia (mainly on the videos). Pompeo (2011) indicated that reflecting on one’s epistemological beliefs can help improve them and hence social science students tend to be more sophisticated in terms of epistemology than science students.

Reference: Sheehy, K. (2016). Developmental psychology: cognitive development and epistemologies. In Ness, H., Kaye, H. and Stenner, P. (2016). Investigating Psychology 3. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

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