Article | July 13, 2019
Cognitive and Developmental Models
In my teaching, I keep numerous models of child development and education in mind.
In my teaching, I keep numerous models of child development and education in mind. Here, they are described for your reference.
"Some people polish on cars, I polish on kids."
--Ernestine Rouse


Early Models

Religion provided the earliest justification for mass education. For example, the Christian ethic holds that the child is "born in sin." Morality must be instilled in the child.
Rationalism , a philosophy espoused by (among others) Spinoza, DesCartes, Rousseau and Thomas Paine, held that the child's mind is a tabula rasa -- a blank slate -- at birth. Through exploration and experimentation, the child uses his senses and cognitive powers to form accurate models of the natural world.
According to Romanticism , a movement that affected the literature, art and music of the 1800s, children are born free and naturally good, but can be corrupted by society.

B. F. Skinner (1904-1990)

Skinner, the chief proponent of behaviorism, believed that children respond to sensory input in predictable ways. According to behaviorism, there are two ways to encourage a given behavior, that is, to increase the likelyhood that it will be repeated. The first, called positive reinforcement, is a "reward" received immediately following the behavior. The second, called negative reinforcement, is a reduction in physical or psychological pain accompanying the behavior.
Punishment, an undesirable stimulus, tends to suppress the behavior that immediately proceeds it.
Note that positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment may be caused by a behavior, or merely coincident with it. Many of the discipline strategies used in schools, from the candy jar on the teacher's desk to detention, are "artificial" stimuli imposed on students by the adults in charge, intended to encourage or suppress specific behaviors. Rapid imposition of the reward or punishment, and linkage to the related behavior, are essential to success. For example, a student who writes on a desk may be unlikely to repeat this behavior if she is made to clean the desk on the day of the writing. If a detention is assigned and served one week after the infraction took place, there is only a remote connection between the behavior (writing on the desk) and the stimulus (the detention). This is usually an inferior method of discipline.
Skinner's approach tends to imply that children are somewhat savage by nature and need to be tamed. Anyone who has witnessed an unattended class of 30 sixth graders might be tempted to agree with this assessment. But as we shall see, reality can be a little more complex than Skinner's philosophy would predict.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

"Man is a wanting animal."
Maslow believed that a human life is spent satisfying needs, such as the need to survive, the need to belong, and the need to create.
Maslow's classified all human needs based on the following hierarchy:
Basic needs -- food, water, oxygen
Safety needs -- security and shelter from the environment
Love needs -- belongingness, affection
Esteem needs -- self respect, stability, confidence
Self actualization needs -- accomplishment, productivity, creativity
Pedagogically, the most important element of Maslow's philosophy is that an individual sets about satisfying these needs in the order presented in the hierarchy. Thus, a hungry person -- someone whose basic needs have not been met -- is relatively unconcerned about security (a safety need) and cannot focus significant internal resources on seeking and giving affection (a love need).
More to the point, Maslow would say that the intrinsic motivation to learn lies in satisfying esteem and self actualization needs. If a child is hungry, or lives in a dangerous neighborhood, or is neglected in the home, esteem and self actualization needs generally are not activated. The desire to learn is diminished or extinguished.
Interesting things happen where Skinner and Maslow intersect.
Jimmy, a neglected child, may act out to garner attention from his teacher. The teacher gets angry, but Jimmy perceives (accurately) that this anger is an expression of concern. The teacher's anger, therefore, is a positive reinforcement. Jimmy repeats the behavior, the teacher gets angrier, get the idea.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

Erikson believed that human development hinges on the individual's response to a series of challenges that inevitably present themselves throughout childhood and early adulthood. At each stage of life, the individual grapples with a different issue.
Age Issue Potential Positive Outcomes
0-1 yr trust vs. mistrust inner drive, hope
1-3 yrs autonomy vs. doubt self control, will power
3-6 yrs initiative vs. guilt direction, purpose
6-12 yrs industry vs. inferiority method, competence
12-19 yrs identity vs. confusion devotion, fidelity
19-25 yrs intimacy vs. isolation affiliation, love
25-50 yrs generativity vs. stagnation productivity
50+ yrs integrity vs. despair wisdom

Those who do not successfully resolve the issues of one stage of life bring "excess baggage" into the next stage. This inhibits their ability to mature into independent, productive and happy citizens.
Astute educators look at students holistically, within the context of Erikson's model.
Mrs. Alcott, a high school English teacher assigns reading in which characters are struggling to establish an identity, and design assignments to help the youngsters explore their own identities. This is one way to teach the child, rather than simply teaching the curriculum.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Piaget studied the development of the human brain's ability to reason and, more generally, to process sensory information. He discovered that the brain goes through stages of growth according to the general scheme described below.
1. Sensorimotor Stage (age 0-2 yrs)
In this stage the child learns
  • to differentiate himself from his environment,
  • to use motor skills and the five senses to discover the basic properties of objects,
  • to use memory and historical patterns to make rudimentary predictions,
  • to integrate motor skills with intent,
  • to associate sounds (words) with objects and simple actions.
Note that the emphasis is on interaction between the child and his or her environment.
At age 3 months, Gertrude's mother plays a game in which she shows a stuffed rabbit to Gertrude, then hides it from view. Gertrude makes no effort to find the rabbit when it is out of view, but seems delighted every time it reappears. At age fourteen months, Gertrude notices that Mom has placed the missing rabbit behind her back and scoots around Mom to look for it. When Mom puts the rabbit in a different location, Gertrude still looks behind Mom's back.
At age six months, Getrude is able to reach out, grab the rabbit, and seems to notice and enjoy its softness. By age two years, Gertrude can remember that Mom puts the rabbit in the toy bin when she tidies up, and she can retrieve it from the bin at will. She associates the word "rabbit" with the stuffed animal and says the word sufficiently well for Mom to understand it.
2. Pre-Operational Thought (age 2-7 yrs)
During this stage of learning, the child first grapples with more advanced mental concepts but often falls short of total understanding. It's the struggle that's important.
Typically, the child will focus on the most obvious single characteristic of an object or situation, and draw illogical conclusions and inferences. The most well-known of these is young children's inability to conserve quantity and volume. For example, when they see a fixed volume of water being poured from a tall, thin container to a short, wide container, the children will interpret that the water's volume has been reduced because the level of the water is lower.
Young children are also egocentric. They assume that everyone is seeing, thinking and feeling whatever they see, think and feel.
Jasmine decides that movement is proof that an object is alive, and so concludes that a car is alive. She is confused by others who hold a different point of view. Her adherence to her own point of view is unshakable in spite of exposure to alternative explanations.
Egocentrism also involves the feeling that all events are caused by the child, or for the benefit of the child.
Albert believes that his frequent nightmares are punishment for bad behavior.
Much thought at this stage centers on symbols of actual events, such as drawing, language, imitation and play.
Susie, age 4, might take comfort and pleasure in imitating the back and forth motion of her mother cutting the grass with a lawn mower. Although she is not being productive in the sense that work is being done, Susie is emulating an obvious feature of her mother's activity and therefore beginning the process of understanding it in greater detail.
Children begin to master the formal rules of grammar at this stage.
3. Concrete Operations (age 7-11 yrs)
At around age 7, children begin to be able to truly master mental (logical) operations. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this transition is the ability to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. At the beginning of this period, children start to notice and process multiple characteristics of objects. They begin to conserve. They can conceive of seemingly continuous objects such as clay or liquids as being made of smaller pieces whose individual positions can vary. They can explore cause and effect relationships in a meaningful way.
There is a marked decrease in egocentrism. Children can take another's point of view into account. Also, children can appreciate some of the subtleties of language, for example, metaphors or riddles involving the multiple meanings of words.
Children in the concrete operations stage can do all of this only where everyday objects or people are concerned. Abstractions (such as representing numbers with letters in algebra) are difficult or impossible for the children to handle.
4. Formal Operations (age 11 to adult)
Around age 11, it becomes possible for children to master formal operations that do not necessarily involve thinking about everyday objects and people. Thus they can master concepts relating other concepts. For example:
  • The meaning of the word government expands to include any body of people making decisions for an organization, not just actual governing bodies the student has studied.
  • The student can learn the concept of a ratio, a fractional comparison of two different quantities, rather than just studying examples of ratios.
  • The child can think about his or her own thinking, and monitor understanding, a skill called metacognition.
Not every person masters this stage of learning. The child's degree of comfort with formal operations is a major discriminator with respect to his or her success in secondary school and college.
Moving Between And Within Stages
Piaget theorized that learning happens because humans have an innate need to process sensory experiences either by assimilation (explaining the event in terms of prior knowledge) or accommodation (constructing new knowledge structures to account for the new information). Piaget believed that movement between the stages is linear and abrupt, although different children progress at different rates.

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom's Taxonomy (1965) is a way to classify questions based on the nature of the thought required to answer them. There are six levels of questions, two that require "lower order" thinking and four that require "higher order" thinking.
Lower Order Thinking
1. Knowledge
Knowledge questions test familiarity with basic facts. Answers are given "verbatim." Examples:
  • Give the capital of Pennsylvania
  • What is the definition of pertinent ?
  • When did the Civil War start?
Knowledge questions do not test understanding.
2. Comprehension
To answer comprehension questions, students must rephrase basic information in their own words. Examples:
  • What was the main idea of the second paragraph?
  • What did you see on our trip to the museum?
  • Compare bacteria and viruses.
Higher Order Thinking
3. Application
Application questions require students to use general techniques and strategies to solve specific questions. Most mathematics problems are application questions. Examples:
  • Solve 3x + 7 = 34
  • Are lice insects or arachnids?
  • Give an example of a metaphor.
4. Analysis
To answer analysis questions, students must draw a conclusion supported by relevant information from source material in which the answer is not explicitly stated. The question "What is the purpose of the turbocharger on this engine?" would be an analysis question if the purpose had not been previously provided to the student, but if he or she had been instructed on the principles of internal combustion engines.
5. Synthesis
Synthesis questions demand thought that is both original and creative, and the production of output that is unique to the student. Examples:
  • Write a poem about growing up.
  • Design a model bridge using only glue and toothpicks.
6. Evaluation
Evaluation questions give the student the opportunity to make judgements about the value of intellectual work or physical materials. When you are asked to say which artist you prefer, to give your opinion, or to say whether you agree with an expert's assessment, you are being asked an evaluation question. To provide a complete answer to an evaluation question, one must articulate a set of criteria upon which the judgement is based. These might be objective criteria or unscientific personal beliefs.


These summaries were compiled based on notes from Ernestine Rouse's class at Drexel University, and with help from the following texts:
  • Reisman and Payne, "Elementary Education, A Basic Text" (Columbus: Merrill Publishing Co., 1987)
  • "Classroom Teaching Skills," ed. James M. Cooper (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1990)
  • Schell et. al., "Developmental Psychology Today" (New York: Random House, 1975)