Piaget and Chomsky models

Revision cards for Health and Social Care on Language Development, about Piaget and Chomsky models


Piaget's model

Piaget’s model focused on how children acquire the ability to think. He concluded that children think differently to adults. He suggested that a 4 year old cannot use abstract logic (al thinking) because they are not mature enough. His model says that infants use egocentric thinking, meaning that they only understand the world from their own perspective. He said that the ability to think logically does not happen until around the age of 7 years old, when children use simple logic (concrete logical thinking) to solve problems. Piaget’s model showed the four main stages of cognitive development.

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Sensorimotor, birth-2 years

Infants think by interacting with the world using their eyes, ears, hands and mouth. As a result, the infant invents ways of solving problems such as pulling a lever to hear the sound of a music box. Piaget believed that a baby would not have a way of remembering and thinking about the world until they were about 18 months old.

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Preoperational, 2-7 years

Children use symbols to represent their earlier sensorimotor discoveries. Development of language and make-believe play takes place. Piaget believed that children at this age cannot properly understand how ideas like number, mass and volume really work. 

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Concrete operational, 7-11 years

Children’s reasoning becomes logical providing the issues are concrete. In the concrete operational stage, children may be able to understand simple logical principles if told in a way that they understand.

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Formal operational, 11-18 years

This is when the capacity for abstract thinking allows adolescents to reason through symbols that do not refer to objects in the real world. Young people can also think of possible outcomes of a scientific problem, not just the obvious ones. Abstract thinking enables individuals to think through complicated ideas in their heads without having to see the concrete image.

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An important aspect in Piaget’s theory was the notion that children go through a series of intellectual development. He referred to these as schemas. A schema is a category of knowledge, as well as the process of acquiring knowledge. A child develops concepts about the world around them (known as a state of equilibrium). As they experience situations where new information is presented, their schemas are upset and they reach a state of disequilibrium. As the new information is accommodated, their original schemas are modified or changed so they reach a state of equilibrium again. 

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Example of a schema

An example of this is a young child spotting a bull in the distance. The child has already learnt about cows and what they look like. The bull that he sees is the same size as some of the cows he has seen, and has similar features. He starts to associate the animal he is seeing with the cows he has seen, and points out the animal to his parents, calling it a cow. His parents tell him that it is not a cow and that it is a bull. He hasn’t ever been told that information before. The ideas that he has previously had about what classifies a cow are wrong (or partly wrong). His schemas are upset and he reaches a state of disequilibrium. When his parent explain to him that the animal he has seen is a different animal called a bull, and that they look similar but are not the same, he processes this new information. His original schemas are modified and he reaches a state of equilibrium.

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Tests of conservation

Piaget believed in tests of conservation. This is the idea that children understand that something’s appearance may change but its’ quantity will stay the same. Piaget said that by the age of 7 years old, children have the ability to understand that when you move liquid from a wide container to a thin container it does not affect its’ volume. The thin container looks different to the wide container, but it is holding the same amount of liquid as the wide container did. He said that children younger than this might not understand.

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Criticisms of Piaget's model

Piaget’s model does not take into account the child’s upbringing or that children learn at different rates. He does not consider people with learning disabilities, and his model is based on a small number of children. The model both underestimates and overestimates children’s cognitive abilities, and does not consider that with adult support, children can be developed to progress to higher level thinking skills. Piaget does not consider the quality of both the child’s formal and informal education.

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Chomsky's model

Chomsky’s model focused on language acquisition. Chomsky believed that the ability to develop signed or spoken language is generally programmed into individuals. This means that all individuals have the ability to understand and use language, regardless of other abilities, and to become fluent in their first language by the age of 5 or 6 years old.

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Language acquisition device

Chomsky said that all individuals are born with a language acquisition device (LAD). LADs enable children to recognise and develop the languages they experience. He said that children are ‘pre-programmed’ to acquire language and that it evolves naturally in the same way that children have the ability to stand and walk. He also said that language develops because of maturation- the unfolding of the individual’s biological potential, and that a child cannot learn language through imitation alone because the grammar and syntax of language around is often highly irregular e.g. adults use slang. Chomsky noted that even if adults around the child use correct grammar, the child will continue to pluralise words e.g. saying gooses instead of geese. He applied his theory to all languages.

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Criticisms of Chomsky's model

In Chomsky’s model, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support his theory. It overemphasises on grammar in sentence structure rather than how children construct meaning from their sentences. His theory does not take into consideration children who have conditions such as Down’s syndrome that may affect or delay their language development.

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