Piaget concluded that Human Cognition was a network of mental structures created by an active organism to make sense of its surrounding world.
Piaget's theories represented a radical departure from the Behaviorist viewpoint, which was dominant in the mid 1900's. Unlike Piaget, Behaviorists' did not acknowledge the internal workings of the mind, and believed that a child was a passive, empty vessel, moulded from without.
By the 1960's, Piaget's ideas were embraced by many in the development of new education systems. The relevance of his ideas for the education of children made his work especially attractive. Piaget's theories had a major impact on a number of education principles, especially at the preschool and early primary levels. His work has served as the foundation for a wide range of curricula developed over the past few decades.
His principles include:
1. A focus on the process of children's thinking, not just its products.
Teachers must understand the process children use to gain an answer, not just the correctedness of the answer. When teachers can appreciate a child's method of arriving at a particular answer, they are then in the position to provide the appropriate learning environment for that child. Thus, building on the child's current level of cognitive functioning.
2. Recognition of the crucial role of children's self-initiated and active involvement in learning activities.
Children are encouraged to discover and learn for themselves through a visual and practical interaction with the subject.
3. A de-emphasis on practices aimed at children becoming 'adult-like' in their thinking.
Premature teaching may be worse than no teaching at all. It leads to a superficial acceptance of adult formulas rather than true cognitive understanding.
4. Acceptance of individual differences in developmental progress.
Piaget's theory assumes that all children go through the same sequence of development, but they do so at different rates. Teachers must make a special effort to provide classroom activities for individuals and small groups, rather than for the total class group. Assessment should be based on individual progress, rather than on the normal standards of same age peers.