Here is my answer to a take-home question of the course "Theoretical view of learning": What connections can you see between the work of piaget and the new research on early brain development?
1. The sequence of children’s qualitative change in cognition structure described by Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development is consistent with the chronological order of development of brain’s different areas concerning specific functions. Brain develops in the order: Brainstem -> Diencephalon ->Limbic -> Neocortex (down to up; back to front; inner to outward). Moving outward towards the Neocortex, complex functions increases: Brainstem controls survival-related functions; Limbic system stores emotional information; and Neocortex developed latest controls abstract thoughts. As Piaget’s observations, children at first use their sense and body (motion) to know and learn about the world, and then the operation become more and more complex and abstract across different stages. The formal operational stage in which children have ability of abstract thinking and hypothesis must be the last stage for each child.
2. In Piaget’s cognitive development theory, cognition and language are closely intertwined. Piaget regarded language development as a part of the children’s cognitive development, and he viewed language as an essentially a development of children’s ability to manipulate symbols, which is the typical characters of preoperational stage one has to reach before entering the next concrete operational stage. The research on the case of one 7-year-old girl discussed in the class last week indeed illustrated such relationship between language and cognitive development by inspecting her brain. This girl cognitive development was much later than other children with the same age. When she was an infant, she spent most time alone without others’ emotionally interacting and talking with her. Research found she can’t speak very well, and through the CT scan, they found the evidence that the areas of language and emotion are obviously under development than normal brain of other 7-year-old children. The early deprived-language experiences results in the lack of language development of brain, which affect her cognitive development.
3. In Piaget’s theory, the child actively organizes his mental system in each stage. Piaget suggested that children should be exposed to enriched environment and activities corresponding to how their schemes work in each stage. For example, in sensorimotor stage, a child will need to see, to touch, to listen, to move, etc. New research that the brain forms actively and uniquely is consistent with Piaget’s theory. Moreover, new brain research especially demonstrates the importance of early development stage because brain growth and development is so profoundly "front loaded" that by age four, a child's brain is 90% adult size. Dr. Bruce Perry indicated that a child is most likely to reach her full potential if he experiences consistent, predictable, enriched, and stimulating interactions in a context of attentive and nurturing relationships with aid by many relational interactions (Dr. Bruce Perry)”. There have been evidences that the sensory-deprivation neglect will make the brain significant smaller and results in abnormal development of cortex, and impede the further cognitive development. Such evidence also supports Piaget’s view that a child’s readiness affects the promotion of cognitive development. On the other hand, in brain research, the emphasis on interaction with other people also supports Piaget’s view that social interaction is essential for cognitive development.
4. In Piaget’s theory, a child developmentally adapts the environment by assimilation and accommodation concerned with adjusting the existing schemes (mental structure). We can find the corresponding biological structure change in the brain. The brain with billions of synapses, which are crucial to the biological computations that underlie perception and thought, pre-wired when the baby in mother’s uterus. After born, our interaction with environment shapes the brain’s biological structure－synapses are use-dependent so only the synapses used will be preserved, and it’s highly probable that the dendritic spine develops different kinds of shape according to different behavior and mental activities. The new brain research provides us how the actual biological structure actually changes corresponding to the change of mental structure conceived by Piaget. New brain research also indicates a new rule－our brain is tend to conserve energy. The less experiences we have in the early child, the less connections and structures we will have. Such observation also Piaget’s suggestion that we should provide enriched environment for children’ learning.