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Chapter 11 Outline


  • Children's humor reflects their cognitive advances related to conservation, seriation, and classification. It is also a way to share with the peer group.
  • Piaget saw age 7 as a major turning point in cognitive development. The transition from preoperational to the more advanced concrete operational thought. Many contemporary researchers see a major transition around 5 to 7 years of age, called the 5 to 7 year shift, with refinements of cognitive skills that are present in preschoolers continuing into middle childhood. There are seven cognitive changes from early to middle childhood:
    1. Capacity for logical, systematic thinking using multiple pieces of information, due in part a marked decline in centration.
    2. Ability to perceive underlying reality despite superficial appearance (the appearance-reality problem).
    3. Domain-specific knowledge or expertise.
    4. Information-processing capacity and control over attention and memory.
    5. Ability to think effectively about own knowledge and processes of thought, metacognition.
  • Cognitive limitations that remain include:
    1. School age children still lack the broad base of knowledge that adults possess.
    2. They sometimes have trouble using a skill they possess as part of a larger problem-solving system.
    3. They cannot reason maturely about abstract and hypothetical problems.

Major Cognitive Developments of Middle Childhood
  • Conservation Concepts
    1. During middle childhood, understanding of conservation becomes more robust and wide-ranging. By age 10 most can conserve number, length, area, mass, and displaced liquid volume. Understanding of conservation becomes more automatic and helpful in problem solving in other domains.
    2. Piaget argued that the same logical skills provide the foundation for understanding all forms of conservation, but children tend to master different forms of conservation at different times, as they learn the specific characteristics of different kinds of quantities. When researchers assess the ages at which concepts of conservation emerge among children in the U.S. and in other Western industrialized societies, they find similar patterns. This is not the case, however, in traditional societies that lack formal schooling, where a lag of one or more years is frequently found.
    3. Conservation requires that children begin to grasp the difference between necessary truth (based on logical necessity apart from observations from the senses) and contingent truth (contingent upon empirical observations).
    4. An Information-Processing Approach to Conservation
      • Unlike Piaget's notions that there is a fundamental shift in logical reasoning ability, information processing researchers argue that children's increasing success at conservation tasks results from their use of increasingly sophisticated problem-solving rules.
      • Children gradually learn what factors truly make a difference in conservation tasks, and their expanding information-processing capacity allows them to deal with larger quantities. Eventually, they apply a rule based on an understanding of the logical necessity inherent in conservation problems.
  • Classification Skills
    1. Classification is an important cognitive skill because it allows children to impose structure on things around them. Concrete operations allow children to understand relationships among categories in a more complex classification system. Hierarchical classification (use of subordinate and superordinate classes) and matrix classification (categorize items simultaneously along two independent dimensions) are two complex systems.
    2. Hierarchical Classification
      • Although preschoolers can learn hierarchical structures, children don't begin to use such structures effectively until middle childhood. Piaget said that hierarchical classification involves the addition of classes--a concrete operation. This ability is tied to concrete objects and situations. An understanding of the logic underlying hierarchies does not emerge until adolescence.
      • Understanding of hierarchical classification is measured by performance on class inclusion problems, which most children age 6 and under fail.
      • When a superordinate term is a naturally occurring collection rather than an abstract class, children in early middle childhood have an easier time thinking about the relationship between levels in the system.
    3. Matrix Classification
      • By age 8 or 9, children can sort objects along two dimensions to form a classification matrix, and they can place objects appropriately in a partially completed matrix (can overcome centration). Piaget's term for the mental operation required to understand matrix classification was multiplication of classes.
      • Between ages 6 and 11, children also learn to use constraint seeking (try with each consecutive question to narrow the range of possible alternatives) instead of hypothesis scanning (e.g., each question in Twenty Questions is a single, self-contained hypothesis, unrelated to previous questions) to identify objects in a matrix.
    4. Summing Up Classification Skills
      • Children begin to classify objects very early in life, but it is not until middle childhood that they make effective use of classification when organizing information.
      • A major reason performance on classification tasks improves during middle childhood is that children this age largely overcome the limitations imposed by centration. Although elementary school children make great progress in classification skills, they still do not entirely grasp the logical necessity of classification structures.
  • Information Processing Memory Abilities
    1. Attentional Abilities
      • 6- to 11-year-olds show greatly improved abilities to control their attention. They become more systematic, organized, flexible, and selective in directing their attention, due to more sophisticated strategy use for directing and maintaining attention.
      • Attention deficit disorders (see Chapter 15) are often diagnosed during these years because of the greater demands on attentional abilities than in early childhood.
    2. Memory Abilities
      • Performance on measures of short-term memory improves during middle childhood.
      • Improvements may be due to memory capacity, knowledge, memory strategies, and metamemory.
      • Memory Capacity. See increase in speed and efficiency of processing information. Increases the functional capacity of memory, due to neurological changes and other factors such as practice (mental processes become more automatic). See changes in how much information is transferred from sensory to short-term store. See short-term memory improvements.
      • Knowledge. Total amount of knowledge held in long-term storage is what Piaget called memory in the wider sense. The more elementary school children know about a particular topic, the better their memory for information related to that topic. Increased knowledge lends greater organizational structure and greater capacity for inference = constructive memory abilities (aid recall by enabling children to draw inferences). By age 11, adult levels of this ability are reached.
      • Mnemonic Strategies - intentional, goal-directed behaviors designed to improve memory. Children's use of the strategies of rehearsal, organization, and elaboration in memorizing information increases dramatically and becomes more flexible during middle childhood.
        1. Three types of deficiencies in strategy use have been identified: mediation deficiencies (cannot use a strategy), production deficiencies (do not use a strategy spontaneously), and utilization deficiencies (use strategy spontaneously but it does not help performance).
        2. 5- and 6-year-olds do not spontaneously use memory strategies often.
        3. The period between 7 and 10 years of age seems to be a transitional stage during which the use of mnemonics expands.
        4. Beginning by about age 10, children show the first signs of using mnemonics consistently and effectively.
      • Metamemory. Children's metamemory--knowledge about memory processes, strategies, and their own memory abilities--increases dramatically during middle childhood, and children also get much better at using their knowledge on memory tasks. Their performance predictions are more realistic and they get better at knowing when a particular strategy worked.

Social Interaction and Cognitive Development
  • School children can learn a great deal from peers as well as from adults. In a peer group, children tend to provide each other with cooperative learning experiences (learners at about the same knowledge level and skill interact to share ideas and discover on their own.)
  • Adults, in contrast, tend to provide children with didactic learning experiences (knowledgeable teacher offers solution to the learner).
  • Which of these kinds of situations is best for learning depends on the nature of the learners and teachers and on the nature of the material to be learned.
  • Didactic Learning Experiences
    Scaffolding - teacher provides support to the learner by observing the learner's behaviors and offering guidance, hints, and advice. As the learning advances, the teacher's strategies progressively change to encourage the mastery of increasingly complex understandings. Children use scaffolding too, just not often as effectively as adults do.
  • Cooperative Learning Experiences
    1. Piaget believed that peer interaction can reduce egocentrism, and studies have shown that peer interaction can be useful in the development of conservation. Interaction does not have to be with a more advanced peer for cognitive progress to occur.
    2. Factors important for cooperative learning are: task should be concrete and rich in relevant information but not too complex; information must support at least two different conclusions; peers must see reaching a consensus as a goal of their interaction, rather than just expressing diverse opinions; children should know each other and have a smooth system of interaction.
    3. Effective didactic and cooperative peer learning emerge early in middle childhood; as children grow older, their increased metacognitive skills improve the quality of their peer teaching. Peer learning is most effective when the children involved are well acquainted.
  • Explaining the Effects of Social Interaction
    1. The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky offer different explanations of the role of social interaction in cognitive development.
    2. Piaget emphasized the role of cooperative learning and a common frame of reference resulting from peers' similar status.
    3. Vygotsky emphasized the role of didactic learning and a common frame of reference resulting from the more knowledgeable partner's understanding of the less knowledgeable partner.

Individual Differences in Intelligence
  • Intelligence Testing and Concepts of Intelligence
    1. The first modern intelligence test was developed by Binet and Simon in France early in the twentieth century. Scoring of intelligence tests originally depended on the use of mental age (MA) to determine an intelligence quotient (IQ). Binet's concept of intelligence was unitary as he considered intelligence to be a general cognitive capability that can be measured by a single score.
    2. Spearman proposed a general reasoning ability he called g. Performance depends not only on g but also on knowledge, abilities, and aptitudes specific to the particular problem at hand. Other theorists have proposed varying numbers of specific intellectual abilities.
    3. Many contemporary intelligence tests are based on a combination of Binet's and Spearman's conceptions of intelligence (e.g., Wechsler scales-overall performance score and scores on verbal and performance subtests).
  • Broadening the Definition of Intelligence
    1. Traditional theories of intelligence have emphasized school-related mental abilities. A number of psychologists have suggested that a distinction should be made between academic intelligence and practical intelligence (everyday problem solving). As yet, there are no methods for assessing nonacademic intelligence that are as well established as standard IQ tests.
    2. Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
      • A more detailed attempt to broaden the study of intelligence is Gardner's multiple intelligences theory. Gardner argues that humans have seven intelligences: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.
      • According to Gardner:
        1. A person's level of competence in each intelligence depends not only on biological endowment, but also on socialization and education.
        2. A person's particular culture determines both how a given competence will be fostered and which competencies will be most stressed.
        3. High competence in one area does not imply high competence in others.
    3. Sternberg's Triarchic Theory
      Sternberg has analyzed the various factors that contribute to making a particular behavior intelligent or not. In his triarchic theory, Sternberg argues that intelligent behavior is governed by three things:
      1. Componential element - the many information-processing skills we use in solving problems.
      2. Experiential element - prior knowledge that affects how a person goes about tackling a problem.
      3. Contextual element - set of circumstances in which a choice is made or an action is taken.
  • Explaining IQ Differences
    It is clear that the influence of heredity on intelligence involves many genes. Evidence for a genetic contribution to IQ differences comes from studies of twins and adopted children. The reaction range for IQ seems to be about 20 to 25 points.
  • The Stability of IQ
    Traditional measures of infant intelligence are poor predictors of later IQ, perhaps because they do not measure the same abilities. Middle childhood IQ scores, however, correlate highly with adult IQ.
  • How Meaningful Are IQ Scores?
    1. The Issue of Cultural Bias
      • Cultural background may influence performance on an IQ test because of content bias, cultural differences in concepts of intelligence, and the interpersonal setting of the test.
      • Psychologists have tried to develop IQ tests that are culture-free or culture-fair, but it has become clear that intelligence always exists in a specific cultural context.
    2. What IQ Scores Can Predict
      IQ scores are good predictors of success in school, and there is a moderate correlation between childhood IQ and adult occupational success. In adulthood, the correlation between IQ and measures of job performance is low.

Culture and School Achievement
  • In most parts of the world, the beginning of formal education coincides with the beginning of middle childhood. Children enter school with many informal linguistic and quantitative skills, but learning to apply these skills to school problems is often a difficult transition because it involves a shift to decontextualized thought (learning to solve problems that are abstract, self-contained, and removed from any immediate context).
  • The transition is often particularly difficult for children whose cultural backgrounds differ from that of the school they attend. Recent research suggests that while individual differences in school achievement are associated with differences in preschool environment and that group differences are tied to experiences in school.
  • Differences in mathematical skills among members of different cultures have been the focus of substantial interest and research in recent years. Chinese and Japanese children surpass American children in math performance beginning in the first grade, and the gap widens year by year. Although genetic explanations have been proposed by some researchers, evidence for them is not compelling. More important contributing factors seem to be the kind of math instruction that children receive and the attitudes they learn from both peers and adults.

An Overview of Middle Childhood Cognitive Development
  • Cognitive changes mainly involve refinement of existing abilities. Children become able to use their skills more and more flexibly and to apply them in a wider range of situations.
  • Individual differences in cognitive abilities become significant and social interaction with peers and adults influences the course and level of their cognitive development.
  • School age children still lack the broad knowledge base they will have in adulthood.
  • They still sometimes have trouble combining their cognitive skills into a larger problem-solving system.
  • They cannot yet reason maturely about abstract and hypothetical problems.

DeHart: Child DevelopmentOnline Learning Center

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