Piaget’s theories have had a major impact on the theory and practice of education (Case, 1998). First, the theories focused attention on the idea of developmentally appropriate education—an education with environments, curriculum, materials, and instruction that are suitable for students in terms of their physical and cognitive abilities and their social and emotional needs (Elkind, 1989). In addition, several major approaches to curriculum and instruction are explicitly based on Piagetian theory (Berrueta-Clement, Schweinhart, Barnett, Epstein, & Weikart, 1984), and this theory has been influential in constructivist models of learning, which will be described in Chapter 8. Berk (2001) summarizes the main teaching implications drawn from Piaget as follows:
- A focus on the process of children’s thinking, not just its products.
In addition to checking the correctness of children’s answers, teachers must understand the processes children use to get to the answer. Appropriate learning experiences build on children’s current level of cognitive functioning, and only when teachers appreciate children’s methods of arriving at particular conclusions are they in a position to provide such experiences.
- Recognition of the crucial role of children’s self-initiated, active involvement in learning activities.
In a Piagetian classroom the presentation of ready-made knowledge is deemphasized, and children are encouraged to discover for themselves through spontaneous interaction with the environment. Therefore, instead of teaching didactically, teachers provide a rich variety of activities that permit children to act directly on the physical world.
- A de-emphasis on practices aimed at making children adult like in their thinking. Piaget referred to the question “How can we speed up development?” as “the American question.” Among the many countries he visited, psychologists and educators in the United States seemed most interested in what techniques could be used to accelerate children’s progress through the stages. Piagetian-based educational programs accept his firm belief that premature teaching could be worse than no teaching at all, because it leads to superficial acceptance of adult formulas rather than true cognitive understanding .
- Acceptance of individual differences in developmental progress.
Piaget’s theory assumes that all children go through the same developmental sequence but that they do so at different rates. Therefore, teachers must make a special effort to arrange classroom activities for individuals and small groups of children rather than for the total class group. In addition, because individual differences are expected, assessment of children’s educational progress should be made in terms of each child’s own previous course of development, not in terms of normative standards provided by the performances of same-age peers.