Sunday, April 14, 2013

Piaget and Constructivism as it relates to therapy and development

Constructivism is a philosophy of learning based on the principle that, by reflecting on our experiences, we can develop our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us creates our own rules and mental models, which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.It is through this process of accommodation and assimilation that people construct, deconstruct, reconstruct and retain knowledge from their own personal experiences.

Jean Piaget began his career as a genetic epistemologist (1919), meaning that he studied the development of knowledge.  During the course of his studies Piaget discovered a valuable relationship between schema’s (exploring environment to make sense out of it), assimilation (integrating new knowledge into an old schema), and accommodation (having an old schema adapt to a new object.

Assimilation and accommodation work together from the constructivist standpoint, increasing our understanding of the world and our ability within it.  According to Piaget, goal between assimilation and accommodation is to find balance between the structure of the mind and the environment, at a certain point between the two, that would indicate that you have a good understanding of your environment.  Piaget called this state equilibrium. 

Piaget  continued his investigation of development, he found that there were periods where assimilation dominated, periods where accommodation dominated, and periods of equilibrium, and that these periods were similar among all the children he observed and so the stages of cognitive development were formed.  These stages include sensory motor, preoperational, concrete, and formal operations stage.

The sensory motor stage is when the  infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning with reflexes and ending with complex combinations of sensorimotor skills.  This stage includes gaining primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, and tertiary reactions.
The preoperational stage lasts from about two to about seven years old. In the preoperational stage the individual develops the ability to use symbols and creative play.  Along with symbolization, the individual also develops an understanding of past and future.

The concrete operations stage lasts from about seven to about 11.  In this stage, the child not only uses symbols representationally, but can manipulate  symbols logically.  In addition, an individual learns the skills of classification and organization during this stage of development. 

From approximately 12 on, we enter the formal operations stage.  Here we develop the skills that allow us to become skillful at “adult-style” thinking.  This involves using logical operations, and using them abstractly, rather than the concrete.  This can be referred to as hypothetical thinking.   It is in the formal operations stage that we develop the skills to be able to  investigate a problem in a careful and systematic way.

In addition to Piaget’s social constructivist theory, there are many others who offer findings on social construction, such as Lev Vygotsky (1987) who developed his own sociocultral theory.  This theory has 5 basic principles which include,  Challenging tasks promote cognitive growth through the assistance of people and the use of zone of proximal development,  interaction with other people is important for cognitive growth, that culture can make daily living more efficient and effective, advanced mental methods start through social activities. As children advance they begin to use ideas on an individual level that were once learned on a social level, and lastly that  there is an increase of the independent use of language and thought during a child’s first few years of life.

A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the various ways in which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived social realities. This involves the individual looking at the ways their individual social phenomenon are created, institutionalized, and normalized by society. A socially constructed reality is one that is seen as an ongoing process that is reproduced by people acting based on their perceptions and the knowledge of their perceptions.

Constructivism has been used for over 60 years to address social and political issues such as poverty and homelessness.  From the political standpoint constructivism has been used to not only address homelessness but also to define it. 

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