Saturday, December 4, 2010

Piaget vs. Vygotsky

Though Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky were by no means in competition with each other in their theories of child development, I found myself unable to resist the need to compare Vygotsky's system of scaffolding with Piaget's stages of child development. The two represented such different ideas, that even though I tried to remain objective in regards to both of them, I found myself finding favour and flaws with both of them, and ultimately leaning towards one system I could believe in moreso.

Conflicted is a good word to describe my relationship with Piaget's stages. There is something, very useful, in having an outline, or a basic understanding of what you can expect from children at certain ages. While I was a child, I think I look back and over estimate exactly how much I do, a bit of a bias and distortion from what I know now. I probably wasn't as smart of a nine year old as I sometimes think that I was. So having someone who has looked into the mental understanding of children is invaluable, to projecting some kind of understanding of the children I'm going to be teaching.

Yet at the same time, I found the stages themselves to be restricting. The ages, as well as the defining points of the stages, are often far from being as clear cut as the examples that Piaget has described. It takes the individual out of child development, because even at best Piaget could only report upon a statistical amount, and give an average of his studies. And who is to say that what children know, and what we are able to comprehend that they know are the same thing.

When the lines between the different stages are this blurred, I almost hesitate to group a child in one of the stages. It is at best, perhaps an approximation of what skills a child will learn, in a somewhat linear order. The individual is powerful, and there is no reason why there may not be a rearrangement of learning for some kids. I would be hesitant to ever use these groupings, because there is something confining, and limiting perhaps our expectations of a child, if we say they can do these things, but not this other set of things. I don't think anyone could say that they haven't been astounded at what a child has learned when we aren't looking.

I wish that there was more to Vygotsky that we were introduced to. Yet with a simple idea, I feel that his theory is not just a simple way of defining children, but, an extremely useful tool for life. Scoffolding works in any situation, for any person, no matter what their age is. And I personally view it as being the true goal of any teacher, to find a way to push a child higher, while giving them just the right amount of support that they need.

Vygotsky simply seems to put forth an idea of advancement, no matter what your age or learning level is. There is room to employ his techniques for everyone, and can be useful for those that are outliers in a classroom. It promotes students to take their education into their own hands, as well as pushing them forward with the ZPD (for all the cool kids).

I also related to the three kinds of assessment, of learning, as learning, and for learning. Once again, they are techniques and tools that can be used to more directly assist learning. Particularly, I thought over the assessment as learning. I never much enjoyed doing self assessments in school because I always worried I'd get in trouble if I gave myself too high of a grade. But, at the same time, it made me be critical of myself, and look at how far I was going, and whether or not I was happy with what I was doing. It would be a handy skill to take forward now even in to my own education, to make sure that I'm keeping myself on task.

And the winner is...
If it wasn't obvious, I found myself drawn to Vygotsky. Looking back into the reflection assignment we had when we went over Vygotsky, my opinion has not changed. Piaget's theory is one of fate, where Vygotsky's theory is one of possibilities. And considering that children have nothing but endless possibilities, I want to embrace as many things into my schema that promote a destruction of barriers or potentially restricting biases that could keep me from giving a fair chance to all of my students.


  1. Excellent, especially the conclusion.

  2. I am currently writing a paper about this exact topic and I agree with you when you say that you side with Vygotsky. Do you have an email I can reach you at to ask you some questions about citing your blog in my paper? There may be more information that you could give me to help me as I try to finish this paper! Thanks so much!

    Kara A.

  3. Nice development. You should be pleased to read Margaret Donaldson Children's Minds.

  4. I think that the debate between the theories of Piaget and Vygostky should be more inclusive. Both theories make important contributions. Piaget's cognitive stages advance an important understanding of the different ways a child and even an adult can approach reality. He pays attention to biological maturation (which is often neglected in the the extreme constructivist perspective) and thedialectical interaction between the subject and the object, the individual and the environment. Vygostky places a greater emphasis on the environment: the concepts of "proximal development and "scoffolding" which are useful tools for teachers. I view both theories as complementary: the interaction between biology and the environment and the cognitive style of maturation achieved by particular cognitive developmental stages (Piaget) and the tools to move students forward (concepts of proximal developmental and scoffolding advanced by Vygostky).

    Enrique DeUrquiza, Ph.D. NYC Department of Education