Cognitive Development – Reflective Statement

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Thirteen years ago I first started learning to play the guitar and today I am still very passionate about developing my skills on the instrument. Looking in detail at the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, this reflective statement will explore my learning journey of playing the guitar and a challenge I faced with my development explaining the impact it had with reference to the chosen theories. Jean Piaget and Lev Semanovich Vygotsky were two of the most influential theorists that contributed to how we view cognitive development today. Piaget was born in 1896 in Neuchatel, Switzerland to a father who was a scientist and a mentally ill mother.
Like his father, this led him to spend most of his time in scientific study rather than perusing more conventional leisure activities. He was a very gifted as a child and at the age of 10 had published his first scientific article. At 14 he was offered a curators position at the Geneva Museum of Nation History and at 18 he had gained his first Bachelor’s degree. He then completed his PHD and by the time he was 21 he had published 25 scholarly papers. From his studies with children in Paris, he became convinced that children think in ways that are qualitatively different than adults.
He passed away in 1980 at the age of 84 (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). Like Piaget, Vygotsky was born into an intellectual family in the southern Byelorussian town of Gomel. Intellectually gifted as a child with an extraordinary memory, he was educated at home and later won a place at the University of Moscow in 1913. After completing university with a degree in law, he returned to Byelorussia and taught a range of subjects to adults and children including language and literature, logic and psychology, and art history and theatre.
During this teaching he became interested in children with learning difficulties and intellectual disabilities inspiring him to develop research clinics that conducted research on such children. He was particularly interested in devising ways in which to assess children’s intellectual abilities and to evaluate the efficiency of intervention strategies. In 1924 he moved to Moscow to work with other psychologists and together they developed a ‘cultural-historical’ or ‘sociohistorical’ view of human development that emphasized cognitive activities such as thinking, memory and reasoning until his death in 1934.
The Russian communist party banned his work from 1936 to 1956 and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that his work was well known around the world (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). Piaget believed that rather my development of playing the guitar being continuous, it related to a series of distinct sequentially proceeding ‘stages’ of cognitive development from birth to my now adulthood, with thinking at one stage being qualitatively different from thinking at the next (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010).
He identified four universal and invariant stages that all children must progress through in sequence in order to reach the level of cognitive development that demonstrates a capacity to think abstractly and use reason. These four stages in order are the ‘sensorimotor stage’ from birth till two years, the ‘preoperational stage’ from two till six or seven years, the ‘concrete operations stage’ from seven till eleven or twelve years, and finally the ‘formal operations stage’ from eleven or twelve years till adulthood.
Piaget identified what he called ‘developmental milestones’ for each of his stages that were key achievements to be attained by a child in each cognitive level (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). I first picked up a guitar to play when I was seven years of age so according to Piaget I probably would have been entering into my concrete operations stage.
This meant that I had achieved the developmental milestone of ‘conservation’, which is the understanding that objects or quantities remain the same despite changes in personal appearance but had not yet demonstrated abstract thought and propositional reasoning as in the formal operations stage. This showed, as I understood that I could manipulate the same notes on the guitar by placing my fingers on different strings, in different locations on the fret board to achieve the same pitch of sound.
But when asked to think abstractly and use propositional and hypothetical-deductive reasoning like in musical composition, I found I could only play music taught to me, not write my own. I remember writing my first song on the guitar when I was aged thirteen. This would be one of my first memories of demonstrating a capacity to think not just about concrete realities, but also about abstract possibilities or and infinite number of imaginable realities. Piaget argued that how we think remains the same no matter what our age, what changes is the way we organize our thoughts using what he described as ‘schemes’.
These schemes are a mental image or cluster of related ideas used to organize existing knowledge and to make sense of new experiences (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). According to this theory, I started my learning journey with the guitar as a young child when I first was exposed to the idea of music. This created a new scheme for ‘music’ and was the building platform for all my further experiences and ideas that related to music. My journey would have then progressed as I was exposed to new ideas about music, with each new idea modifying my scheme of music.
Piaget described the modification of schemes when introduced to new experiences as ‘disequilibrium’, which is the cognitive imbalance resulting from inconsistency between what is known and what is expected, and something strange and expected (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). This would have first been shown when introduced to the image of a guitar. By not having any prior schemes connected to this new experience, I would have entered a mental state of disequilibrium. To try fixing this imbalanced state, Piaget describes a process called ‘adaptation’ taking place.
This is the process of adjusting to new situations and experiences through the modification of existing schemes or the creation of new schemes by either of two processes called ‘accommodation’ or ‘assimilation’. Accommodation refers to creating fresh information to form a new mental image or scheme. An example would be when I first experienced seeing a guitar, a new ‘guitar’ scheme was created and every other experience of guitars was then added to this scheme. As well as accommodation taking place, assimilation is used to adjust existing mental models or schemes to fit a mental experience (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010).
An example of this would be when I previously had only seen acoustic guitars, and then being introduced to the experience of seeing an electric guitar for the first time. Knowing that it looked similar to what I currently thought a guitar looks like, but the shape and size were different, I experienced disequilibrium and then using accommodation I adjusted my existing mental model and scheme to fit the new experience. Once balance between what is familiar and known, new and unfamiliar has been achieved through the process of assimilation and accommodation, a state of equilibration will now replace the disequilibrium.
This happened whenever I successfully learned a new chord, new fingering pattern or any way in which my guitar scheme encountered and adapted to a new experience. When I stopped receiving guitar lessons at the age of thirteen, the lack of social interaction with the other guitar students challenged me in my learning of the instrument. Both Piaget and Vygotsky agreed that social interaction plays an important part in influencing development. According to Piaget’s theory he suggests that social interactions with others, including peers and teachers, contribute to children’s learning experiences (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010).
While I was receiving lessons I was critically challenged by my teacher to constantly expand my existing scheme of what I could play on the guitar, but without a teacher or mentor to stimulate cognitive development I could only attempt do this myself using anti social resources I found in books and on the internet. Piaget believed that social interaction is particularly important when children are interacting with their peers who think in similar ways and who have had similar experiences but who have a slightly different perspective (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010).
While I was receiving lessons I’d often meet with other students to share ideas and skills to expand each other’s abilities on the guitar. This key process is described as ‘sociocognitive conflict’, which challenges children’s thinking and stimulates cognitive development as the child tries to fit together others’ views that differ from their own (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). Vygotsky argued very strongly that it is interaction with others that we learn how to think.
While Piaget was interested in describing what was universal in children’s cognitive development, Vygotsky was interested in differences, and particularly how these differences arose from the social, historical and cultural context in which children grow (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). When I was receiving guitar lessons, Vygotsky described that I was developing not just as an individual, but also as a member of a particular society and culture. He described human’s mental abilities as ‘lower mental functions’, which are inherited, involuntary capacities such as vision hearing and taste that are controlled by external bjects and events as well as ‘higher mental functions’, which are developed through social interaction, including logical abstract thinking and language. These higher mental functions operate internally and are used to control lower mental functions, to solve problems concerning external objects and events (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). When I left my guitar lessons it was these higher mental functions that were much harder to develop by myself in a solo learning environment.
One of the key concepts that differed Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development from Piaget’s is the notion of internalisation. This is the notion that individuals change their ideas and processes when they observe and participate in social interaction (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). I experienced this when I was sixteen at high school and related to other peers who also shared my interest for learning the guitar. Media also played a large role in internalising ideas from songs that I had heard on the radio or seen on television.
Taking these ideas from my peers and the media, I applied them to my life and built new skills and ideas from them. Vygotsky identified what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, or ZPD, which he described as the distance between what children can do by themselves and what they can do with the help of others (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). During high school I quickly realized that the more I socialized with peers that were better than myself at playing guitar, the faster I learned new skills that would have taken me much longer to learn by myself.
This is where I saw Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD being used the most. Vygotsky argued that the difference between learners is their ZPD, where one learner is much more able to benefit from assistance than the other (Krause, Bochner, Duchesne, & McMaugh, 2010). During my later years in high school I found that my younger peers who hadn’t been playing guitar as long as myself benefited from older students assistance much more than I did. This showed me the significance of the role in assisting learners to progress.
This reflective statement has considered how the theories of Paiget and Vygotsky have applied to my learning journey of playing the guitar and a challenge I faced during it with reference to the chosen theories. It showed how both theorists have shaped how we view cognitive development in todays teaching setting and the importance of social interaction within a learning environment. Word Count: 1979 References Krause, K. , Bochner, S. , Duchesne, S. , McMaugh, A. (2010). Educational Psychology for Learning and Teaching (3rd ed. ). Victoria: Cengage Learning

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