Among other specific theories of knowledge acquisition (like empiricism, rationalism), which aim to describe how learning happens, constructivism theories are a group of theories that believe that individuals generate knowledge in result of interaction between their experiences and their thoughts. (If we speak about very first stages of child’s development, then it would be interaction between experiences and behavior patterns).
Jean Piaget was basically the first to formulate ideas of constructivism. He suggested a mechanism of constructing new knowledge by individuals on basis of their experience. Piaget believed that thinking is in a way an extension of biological adaptation. The two basic processes of the mechanism are accommodation and assimilation. Accommodation is a process of changing our model of the world when our experience contradicts it, so that we learn from our or other people’s failure. Assimilation is the process of including new experience into our existing model. Piaget also suggested that intellectual development happens in stages which are related to age. On each stage certain abilities and model of reality are formed.
Montessori’s theory, actually, is though to be between both constructivism and cognitivism. Anyway, Montessori’s ideas following common traits with constructivism: she also believed that knowledge constructions do not always correspond to reality, but a certain “inner teacher” leads a child, who learns from experience and a child needs not to be interrupted in his discoveries; her instructions seem to be based on ideas of Vygotsky (one of main figures in constructivism) about scaffolding and zone of proximal development, though she opened her first school when he was around 11 years old.
Piaget and Montessori have common basic ideas, that children “construct” their own knowledge, but not just take it from teachers. They both suggested stages of development, but on different basis and with different timing. Piaget believed that stage of “concrete operations” is reached only at the age of seven and logical operations cannot be understood by them before, so teaching reading, writing and math should start not earlier than this age. Montessori argued that children have “sensitive periods”, meaning that at every age children are more likely to develop particular skills, but we should encourage them to develop all of these skills from the very beginning of their lives.
2. Chomsky’s “poverty of the stimulus” argument and Quine’s “problem of radical translation” have served to frame the central questions for most language researchers. Discuss the similarities and differences in the general logic of these two arguments. How might they both be seen to fail at characterizing language development?
The basic idea of “poverty of the stimulus” argument in psychological context is that children are born with certain linguistic capacity. The data they receive from environment about language is obviously not enough to understand its grammar (not enough because they only hear correct example of sentence, but never the “wrong” one), but still we all know how to speak in the right way.
Quine’s “problem of radical translation” raises issue of meanings of the words. He states that “straight” translation cannot exist, as all that we can know about the meaning of other person’s words is what we can learn from his behavior, but we can never get into his head and know what meaning is really hidden behind his words. But still people speak the same language and understand each other.
These both theories show that language development cannot be based only on experience, though, of course, they both cannot deny significance of communication in the process of learning.
Why Chomsky might be wrong? Neurologists still have not found any significant evidence of existence of inner linguistic capacity. His theory is based on the idea of common grammar for all languages, which is also questioned by many researchers.
The both arguments do not explain differences in language development of kids and mechanisms of understanding each other.
3. Describe the developmental assumptions that underlie Baillergeon’s drawbridge study and the procedures that follow from them. How do these differ from Piaget’s account of children’s physical (or object) knowledge?
Piaget argued that children before 8-9 months do not understand that objects have an independent existence. According to Piaget experiments, children before this age do not search for a hidden object, from which he made a conclusion, that if the object disappears from their sight, for children it doesn’t exist anymore.
Baillergeon challenged his conclusion. The researcher argued that Piaget underestimated children’s abilities in understanding of object permanence and there should be other reasons for children’s failure in searching for an object out of their sight. She assumed that children do not search for the hidden object not because they do not know about its existence, but because they are limited in their physical abilities (they are not able yet to coordinate their muscular movements in order to search).
To prove her assumption she used the famous “drawbridge” experiment. Children of 4-5 months were watching a drawbridge swinging back and forth. As soon as they got used to it, the researcher placed a box in the path of the drawbridge and the two following situations were demonstrated to the kids: a possible one, when the box stopped the drawbridge from moving and an impossible one, when the drawbridge seemed to pass through the box. Infant looking time was measured in both cases and it turned out that they look on a “magic trick” longer than on a possible event. The researcher believes that the reason is that the children were surprised, as their expectation did not come true, which means that kids at this age do realize basic physical facts, such as solidity and permanence of objects. This technique is called violation of expectation (VOE) paradigm.
So, while Piaget’s theory states that kids learn from their experience and need 8-9 months to realize that things exist apart form them, Baillargeon showed that kids have this knowledge much earlier, though their experience is not that wide yet. How could that happen?
Baillargeon had two hypothesis: innate fast learning (kids are born with ability to gain understanding of objects existence and interaction easily) and innate object learning (this understanding is given by birth).
Though her studies were criticized (some researchers, for example, argued that infant looking time is longer not because the kids are surprised, but because they explore the difference between two situations), her research if repeated shows same results and her ideas are accepted by many psychologists.
To conclude, we should say that Baillargeon’s study undermanned some of Piaget’s basic positions. While constructivism states that we learn only from experience, she showed that some knowledge can be present even when experience is very limited.