Two well-known pioneers in the area of cognitive development in children were Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky and Jean Piaget. They were constructivists who believed that children learn through mental construction. Their theories on teaching and learning are used to this day. They were very similar in their theories, but differed in how they think children learn best. Their approaches are still used by many instructors today to teach children in the classroom.
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Children learn by piecing together new information with knowledge they have already acquired. Students' learning is affected by the setting in which they learn as well as their backgrounds and beliefs. They also believe that society plays a large role in how students' learn and comprehend. This is how Vygotsky and Piaget are similar, and is the only theory on knowledge that they share.
Vygotsky believed that learning takes place before a child's development and is based mainly on history and symbolism. Piaget, on the other hand, believed that learning in children only takes place by doing or action. He believed that learning takes place in the environment around children and happens only after development. Vygotsky believed that learning takes place through others in a child's environment such as parents or teachers. Piaget did not believe the contribution of others makes a measureable difference in children's learning.
Piaget believed that children develop through four set motor stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete and formal operational. Children move through these stages in their lives to acquire knowledge and develop their minds as human beings. This is how children develop cognitively. Vygotsky did not believe there were any set stages children pass through. He believed that children pass through learning phases in their lives, such as private speech, the zone of proximal development and scaffolding.
Vygotsky's theories are used to this day in the classroom. The zone of proximal development that Vygotsky proposed ascertains that children learn best at the level right above their present level. Children learn things they may not know how to do at the present time, but are just about to achieve. Scaffolding is a process whereby teachers and parents give students' tips and hints on how to achieve something, and students are then able to take that knowledge and come up with their own solutions to problems.
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