Developmental Psychology encompasses the most orderly changes that people go through on their development from conception to death.
As humans mature, the way they carry out mental processes becomes more sophisticated. However, psychologists often debate whether this development is fostered by nurture or nature.
During the first few years of school, children’s learning progresses from more concrete thinking to more abstract. Yet, all children develop at different paces based on their own unique inner timetable, while others face disabilities that challenge their cognitive development as they move into adulthood. More often then not, teachers also have the challenge of having to follow the state mandated curriculum even though it is not always aligned with the developmental needs of students, which can affect student engagement, understanding and retention of the content matter.
As stated in Dr. Dornisch’s module, some students have difficulty with abstract concepts and I agree based on my experience as a fifth grade inclusion teacher. Rather than focusing on understanding a concept, many children try to merely memorize the definition, assuming that this will help them perform better on a test. However, when students merely memorize definitions, they are often unlikely to be able to recognize examples of the concept, create their own example of the concept, or apply the concept in problem solving.
Using the book Yardsticks by Chip Wood as a resource, I know that there is tremendous growth in cognitive abilities during the years surrounding the age when a child is 10, the average age of the students in my class. At this point in their learning, their knowledge base is expanding and children are capable of memorizing more, and better at organizing the information they are exposed to. Children can make better judgments than in previous years in their development, as they develop better problem solving strategies. At this stage, expressive and receptive language skills are also improving. All of this holds true, however, unless the students are challenged in this area by a developmental or cognitive delay in learning.
Based on cognitive development in middle to late childhood, Piaget would describe my students as learners during the stage of concrete operations. Children begin this stage around 5 to 7, but many are quite proficient by age 11 or 12. During this stage, students are capable of thinking more logically and they are also improving their understanding of relationships among objects in space and time. Abilities during the concrete operational stage include: classification, seriation, numbering, reversibility, conservation, physical causality, rule orientation, spatial awareness and time consciousness. (Lifespan Developmental Psychology Textbook)
Using Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children move from one stage to another through the gradual process of interacting with the environment. “When a ‘disequilibrium’ occurs, that child seeks to resolve through one of two processes of adaption. The child either fits the new experiences into his or her existing view of the world (assimilation) or changes that schema or view of the world to incorporate the new experiences (accommodation).” (Robyer & Edwards, 2000)
In preparation for ten year old students using Piaget’s research, teachers need to lay the groundwork for learning by giving students appropriate materials to classify, seriate, and memorize. While at the same time, teachers should be scaffolding on Vygotsky’s principles of pedagogy, guiding students into learning more abstract concepts with activities based on each student’s individual zone of proximal development.
So, how are you as a teacher supposed to use this information to help students become more abstract thinkers? You must recognize that developmentally, students are prone to memorize and organize material, based on their biological transition from early childhood to adulthood. Teachers need to identify that memorizing material is an innate skill that children have during this fifth grade time frame and that curriculum appropriate for this skill, like memorizing multiplication facts, should be emphasized during this time period. While at the same time, teachers need to expose students to more abstract concepts of thinking such as problem solving and making connections across content areas, by teaching children strategies that help them to assimilate and accommodate the new information they are learning. There are many technology options for teachers to choose from that would help to foster abstract cognitive thinking in children.
Students are more apt to understand and retain information about abstract concepts when they have opportunities to play with it, think about it, make connections to it and reflect or share the information with others through project based assignments and assessment. Here are some suggestions for you:
Big Universe is a site in which students could take a topic in social studies and retell the story of an important historical figure or event by turning it into an online book.
Students could also create a digital story about an abstract concept using a similar program like Photo Story.
Comic Life is another program in which students could use to explain abstract concepts or problem solving activities by using digital photos to create original comics. While Comic Life is a fee based program, it has many benefits. As stated on the site, Comic Life has a zero learning curve. You can easily drag and drop images from the integrated Photo viewer or your desktop. Comic Life also has a library of pre-made templates, styles and fonts. It is a great tool for teachers to consider using with elementary students.
Creating podcasts is another way for students to share their understanding of abstract concepts and problem solving activities. Writing podcast scripts encourages children not only to explain content area topics, but fosters creativity and reflection through role playing activities. Once scripts are complete, students can easily edit podcasts using audacity and then teachers can upload podcasts to gcast.