Pedagogically Speaking on #Piaget by @TeacherToolkit

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This is a blog about teaching pedagogy; and psychologist Jean Piaget.

“Tolerate younger students asking ‘why?’ Provide older students with opportunities to make decisions.”

When I trained as a teacher in the 1990s, as part of the 4-year course to secure my BAEd and QTS qualifications, I studied the theory and history of education. This included the Education Acts on 1944 and 1988, as well as child development, psychology and teacher pedagogy to name a few.

Education History:

A small part of the knowledge of education regulations that we mused over, to attain my final degree in education, the knowledge included;

  • understand learners and the learning process in the context of formal education, including psychological, cultural, ethical and philosophical perspectives; to critically reflect on teaching practices, including their own; and in consequence to operate as an effective and professional educator.
  • to understand and to operate responsibly as a designer and technologist in social, cultural, economic, political and environmental contexts employing a range of appropriate skills and practices of the designer-maker.
  • to exploit a range of transferable skills (such as research, communication, analytical, meta-cognitive and interpersonal skills) in order to play an active role in the profession on graduating and in the future, and to engage enthusiastically and effectively in life-long learning.
  • to combine these understandings of design and technology, and of teaching and learning, in such a way that they operate effectively and responsibly in supporting the development of design and technology capability in eleven to eighteen year-old learners. This also included curriculum reform, design in society and education studies.

On reflection, I can see how this foundation has managed to help maintain a degree of resilience and stay stuck in the classroom for 20 years.

Child Psychology:

Over the years I’ve formed opinions about Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children, and also for Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist. There are of course many more, but both gentlemen stick …

Piaget Vygotsky

Risky Business!

The focus of this blog is on Piaget pedagogy.

Now, one may not associate Piaget with risk-taking and you may ask why I have included an association between them both: ‘risk’ with ‘Piaget’.

Jean Piaget was a psychologist known for his epistemological studies, primarily concerned with the nature of knowledge in children. His theory of cognitive development, or simply, the nature and development of human intelligence, indicated how humans come to gradually acquire, construct, and use knowledge.

So, how does this fit into my blog purpose, I hear you ask?

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Image: Shutterstock


Piaget placed great importance on the education of children and was the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowledge. ‘Constructivism’ is about ‘how people learn.’ That understanding/acquiring knowledge has associations with theories of instruction. How students develop their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. For example, discovery, experiential, hands-on, project-based, collaborative and task-based learning are some of the applications that base teaching and learning on constructivism.

But most of all, how instruction is offered and delivered by the teacher.

From the viewpoint of a teacher, I would also include the ‘why?’ to help take ‘knowledge of learning’ to a deeper level of cognition.

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Image: Shutterstock


I am no expert, but in a nutshell this is a useful reminder to us all during a busy time of the year; that use of knowledge (or constructivism) is constructed in children, when knowledge comes into contact with existing knowledge. Many have blogged about SOLO taxonomy to explain what I perceive as something quite similar. That this type of learning/learner can be resourceful, self-directed and innovative (and more) based on the building blocks/foundations of ‘how and why’ learning is sequenced.

Do not under-estimate the importance of prior knowledge; particularly with reference to ‘how‘ knowledge is applied. The purpose in education is to become creative and innovative through analysis, conceptualisations, and synthesis of prior experience to create new knowledge. And that the purpose of teaching and teachers, is to be able to impart knowledge with unequivocal confidence.

Take it Further?

So, let’s place a little bit of risk in your teaching? Why not try this too?

I encourage you to provide ample opportunities for your students to acquire knowledge through traditional and progressive practice; practical activity, theory and/or experience. Throw away the textbook! Throw away the worksheet! Allow students to take a computer apart; break open a mechanical toy to see how the mechanical cogs fit together; de-construct the opening scene of MacBeth.

Whatever it is, encourage students to ask why and how and allow them to make their own decisions/draw conclusions.

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Image: Shutterstock

Get Started:

A good starting point to consider, is how could you integrate acquiring knowledge without didactic teaching, text-book teaching; using a worksheet or a Powerpoint slide-show (one-size fits all) teaching? No matter how stressed and pushed for time you are, do all you can to find that ‘link between knowledge and discovery’ by providing ample hands-on experience.

You can read more here.


14 thoughts on “Pedagogically Speaking on #Piaget by @TeacherToolkit

  1. A small matter about Piaget is that he only studied about 20 children to construct his theory. This has been a criticism of his and his followers which they have never fully resolved with a larger scale study. Equally his observations of the children were set up in a way to see if they would construct knowledge in this inquiry based way – he was not comparing this with direct instruction to see if one were preferable to the other.

    I am not saying don’t use it but use it without bias to see if it actually works with the children you are teaching. I maybe more with Vygotsky than Piaget but I think in either case one needs to be open to the empirical evidence one finds.

    1. Problems with Vygotsky may also be that his famous Zone of Proximal Development – although an appealing concept apparently promoting free thinking- was actually a result of a psychology based in a social environment of control. In other words the learner’s progression to the next level of understanding at the other end of the z of p d was dependent uppn teacher instruction not discovery or constructivism. Had the latter been the case, there may have been more challenge to the predominating communist interpretation of how life should be. Illeris does a very appealing critique on this.

  2. Look also at Knud Illeris’s The Three Dimensions of Learning and link this to Bill Lucas’s Expansive Learning (centre for Real World Learning at Winchester University). Knowledge is not finite and one of Illeris’s points in Chapter 6 is the creative power borne out of resistance to the status quo. So we should be aware that removing the engineered institutionally generated controls present in schools and colleges ( ie the predomination of teacher controlled access to knowledge) risks taking away possible reasons which of themselves promote creativity. The trick is, I think, that we need constructivist approaches that allow creative, experimtial learning but always within a emotionally supportive environment.

    1. I’m not convinced we need constructivist approaches – that seems too far down the other way for my liking. However, I do agree that being creative and experimental is important. On the other hand, I think this requires some level of solid knowledge to begin with otherwise it amounts to messing about and nothing more. However, I have seen children come up with some pretty interesting experiments once they have some understanding of properties of materials for example. Otherwise that clouds the theorising as they are doing it in a quasi-vacuum.

  3. People have been trying to understand learning for centuries. However, they did not have the benefit either of extensive classroom experimental results or of the brain-scanners which show which parts of the brain are working with different thinking is happening nor the knowledge of the mechanism by which neurons link together to form memories.
    Consequently they made ‘educated guesses’ based on their own limited experience.

    This has led to a whole set of inconsistent and difficult-to-understand theories which leave our own brains numb and perpetuate the belief that the learning process is incredibly difficult and that we can all have our own opinions which we validate with your own teaching.

    Now however, in 2015, we can take the next step. We know what works and what doesn’t work (from classroom experiments) and we can explain why they work (or don’t work) using simple cognitive neuroscience/psychology.

    We can look back on those early attempts by the likes of Rousseau, Piaget, Vygotsky etc as stepping stones, but now redundant. Its important that we leave the old theories behind because they are so complex that we can either only get part of the picture because we study only a few, or we can spend our whole lives discussing the various merits (and maybe become a university professor with nothing useful to say).

    The new theory of learning is fairly simple and agreed by nearly all the educationalists who look at the evidence.

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