ERQ marking: Cognitive development

Below you will find three sample essays for the question: Evaluate one theory of cognitive development.

For each of the samples, refer to the rubric to award marks. After each sample, there is a predicted grade as well as feedback on the strengths and limitations of the sample.

ERQ rubric

Sample 1

Cognitive development is the maturation of intellectual processes such as reasoning and perception. One theory of cognitive development is Piaget’s Stage Theory.

One theory of cognitive development is Piaget’s Stage Theory. Piaget explained that cognitive development occurs due to biological development, and that Children are “active scientists” whose schema is constantly adapting due to biological development and interaction with society. Piaget’s theory shows that development occurs in stages that are universal. The four stages are: Sensorimotor stage, ages 0-2; Pre-operational stage, ages 2-7; Concrete Operations stage; ages 7-12; and the Formal Operations stage, ages 12 and up. Piaget explains that in the Sensorimotor stage, babies do not have object permanence, the idea that objects exist when one cannot see them. In the Pre-operational stage Piaget says children understand object permanence, but cannot understand conservation and only can think in their point of view, called egotism. One study that supports Piaget’s idea of egotism in concrete operations is his Three Mountains study. In the study Piaget showed children, aged 2 - 7, three mountains of different sizes, and then asked them to describe what the mountains looked like from the point of view of another person.  They couldn't do it.

To show conservation Piaget did many studies on liquid conservation, which Li et al tested later. The conservation study involved two glasses of a liquid with the same size in volume, which the child recognized as the same amount of liquid. The child then saw the researcher pour one glass of liquid into a taller cup. The child was then asked which glass had more liquid, and the child responded that the taller cup had more. Piaget uses these experiments to prove his theories in early childhood development, however they have many flaws.  Piaget only used cross-sectional studies instead of longitudinal studies and conducted his research on his own children. This means that he never studied a child throughout full development. Less complicated studies on egotism, including Hughes’s police doll study, found that a more age-appropriate task resulted in children being able to complete the task. Piaget explained that primarily biology plays a role in cognitive development, which theories such as Vygotsky’s argues against.

Another study is Baillargeon's study of object permanence.  She had children and their moms come into her lab for the study. To prove object permanence she had the children play with their mom with the toys that were in the room. The researcher came and told the mom to leave.  When she left, Baillargeon watched the child's reaction.  She found that children who were securely attached to their mothers had object permanence,where the children who were not attached to their mothers, this could be explained because the baby did not have object permanence yet. The problem with this study is that it was not possible to confirm this with the babies.

Piaget also believes that development happens by developing schemas by interacting with the environment.  There are several studies that look at schema theory to support Piaget's theory.  For example, Brewer and Treyens asked participants to wait in an office.  They were not told that the study had already begun.  When they were called into the next room, they were asked what they remembered from the room.  They found that people remembered typical things for an office, even if they were not there.  They also did not remember things, like a picnic basket, which were there, but not typical. This shows that Piaget was correct that schemas affect our cognition.

One theory of cognitive development is Piaget’s Stage Theory. His theory shows the importance in the development of schemas in cognitive development. Piaget’s, however, views development as biological maturation, which he does not really explain. While the theory has helped in education, it has significant flaws, which hurts its credibility.

710 words

Focus on the question: The essay's introduction is poor. Although it identifies the theory that will be discussed, it does not clarify the goal of the question or explain how the question will be addressed.  The essay also is at times difficult to follow. There is very little attention given to the command term - evaluation is of research and not the theory.  0 marks.

Knowledge and understanding: The theory is not clearly explained. Outlining the stages of Piaget's theory was not a good strategy.  Outlining one stage in better detail and clearly linking it to the question would have been better. There are errors in understanding - for example, that the role of schema in development or the nature of object permanence. Terminology is used, but with errors.  Examples include the use of the words prove, credibility and object permanence.  3 marks

Use of research: Studies are not clearly explained nor linked well to the question. The study by Baillergeon is confused with Ainsworth's study on attachment theory; the study by Brewer and Treyens is irrelevant to the question.   2 marks.

Critical thinking: There is no clear evidence of critical thinking.  Neither the research nor the theory is evaluated. There are some unsuccessful attempts at evaluation.   1 mark.

Clarity and organization: The answer is organized but is not clearly developed with regard to the demands of the question. Some of the descriptions of research are not clear.  1 mark

Total: 7 marks

Predicted: 3

Sample 2

One theory of cognitive development is Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory. Unlike Piaget who saw cognitive development as a series of universal stages that were the result of interacting with one's environment as a "natural scientist", Vygotsky saw development as the result of interaction with one's social environment. Although schools have adopted many of Vygotsky's ideas, there are limitations to his theory.

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory, his main focus was social interaction in the development of cognition. He also suggests that children’s cognitive development is based on biology, children have an urge to develop. How they develop depends on implicit and explicit cultural norms. This is because imitation and collaborative learning pass on knowledge. Vygotsky also believed that babies are born with “elementary mental functions” these are attention, sensation, memory, and perception; the culture will determine how these develop into “higher mental functions”. He also believed that the child develops by interacting with a “more knowledgeable other” (MKO), this could be a parent, sibling, teacher, or even a friend. They just have to have a better understanding or a higher ability that the learner. This is a way for the child to understand actions or instructions from a superior person to later on process the information. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), is the difference between what a child can achieve on its own and what they can achieve with guidance and encouragement form a MKO.

A study showing this is Freund (1990). Children had to decide where to place furniture in a dollhouse, matching the furniture to the correct room. They were split into two groups. One group carried out the task with their mothers; the other group played with the doll house alone.  When the children in both groups were asked where specific pieces of furniture went in the house, the group that had the first trial with their mothers did better on the final test than the children that where originally by themselves. The conclusion was the ZPD led to a greater understanding of the task than working alone. This theory has been successfully applied to teaching even though it has a lack of empirical support.

A study by Nichols found that when high school students were working in groups, rather than only having lectures from their teacher, they learned better. This reflects Vygotsky's idea of cooperative learning. Vygotksy's theory is that social interaction promotes development and learning. Nichols argued that working together increased motivation for learning. However, the study only measured motivation, not actual learning. In addition, learning content is not the same as cognitive development. As Piaget showed in his stage theory, cognitive development has cognitive milestones where a child is now able to do something that they couldn't do before, like abstract reasoning. It could be that Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development is not well defined.

Vygotsky also argued that what happens through play in our environment eventually become internalized. However, Prior and Welling carried out a study that challenged this. In one condition, children were told to read a text quietly to themselves. In another condition they were asked to read it aloud. They were tested on their understanding of the reading. They found that for the younger children there was no difference in when they read it aloud or to themselves.  However, for older children they did better when they read aloud.  This is the opposite of what Vygotsky said.

To summarize, there are both strengths and limitations of Vygotsky's theory.  Scaffolding, or breaking down ideas for students, is now commonly used in schools - as is group work and cooperative learning.  The theory also is more holistic than Piaget, noting physical development but also the role of culture and social groups in a child's development.  However, the theory is not easily testable and there is contradictory evidence both supporting and challenging the theory.

650 words

Focus on the question: The beginning of the essay introduces the question and identifies the theory of cognitive development.  The response could be more focused on the demands of the question.  There is evaluation of the theory in line with the demands of the question.  2 marks.

Knowledge and understanding: The theory is fairly well described, but there is a lot of "dropping of information" into the paragraph describing the theory.  Since some of these ideas are not really referred to again in the rest of the essay, it would have been better to write a more limited description of the theory which would be directly linked to the research. Psychological terminology is used correctly.  5 marks

Use of research: The study by Freund is not used well.  The conclusions should focus on MKO.  The study is not clearly linked to the ZPD. The Nichols study is used well, but it is not well explained.  This could have used a bit more precision.  The study by Prior and Wells is used effectively as a challenge to Vygotsky's research.  4 marks.

Critical thinking: Strengths and limitations of the theory are addressed, as well as an evaluation of individual pieces of research, although this is inconsistent and sometimes lacks development.  4 marks.

Clarity and organization: The response is well organized, although the description of the theory and some of the research lacks clarity.  1 mark

Total: 16 marks

Predicted: 6

Sample 3

One theory of cognitive development is Piaget’s Stages of development. Piaget’s Stage Theory of Cognitive Development focuses on the stages of the biological maturation and states that children are “active scientists”. Piaget believed that the stages of development are universal and always progress in the same order.  Piaget's theory had a major effect on schools, but there are several limitations to his original theory.

In Piaget’s Stage Theory of Cognitive Development, stage one, the sensorimotor stage; is from when the child is born until about the age of two. This is where children explore the world though their five senses; in this stage between 6 and 8 months old, children develop object permanence – the ability to understand that an object still exists, even when it cannot be seen. Baillargeon and Vos challenged this in a study of the “impossible situation test.”  In this test, children watched a car down a track.  Then a block was placed on the track.  Unexpectedly, the car was able to pass through the block. They found that the child stared longer at the “impossible” situation than the possible one at only four months.  This shows that object permanence may occur earlier than Piaget thought. However, it is difficult to actually measure this as infants are not able to speak and it measuring the duration of the baby’s stare may not be a true sign of object permanence.

The pre-operational stage occurs from the age of two to seven; its main characteristic is egocentrism. This means that the child cannot understand another person’s point of view or perspective.  A study used to support this theory was Piaget and Inhelder’s (1956) the three-mountain task. In this study there were three mountains, each one smaller than the next and a doll placed at on one of three mountains. The children were asked to explain the point of view of the doll. Children under six years old all showed their own point of view.  This seems to support Piaget’s theory of egocentrism.  However, Hughes carried out a study with policemen and walls.  The directions were simpler and the child was asked what the policeman sees.  Children as young as four were able to answer the question. It could be that the children in the original experiment simply did not understand the task.  Replications of Piaget’s research indicate that the stages may not be as clear as Piaget claimed.

Another criticism of Piaget is that he did not pay enough attention to sociocultural factors.  Li et al carried out a study on conservation – another aspect of the pre-operational stage.  Children in this stage believe that when water is poured from a short/wide cup to a long/tall cup, that the amount of water increases.  Only at the end of the stage do they realize that the amount of water stays the same. Li et al tested a large sample of Chinese primary school children using Piaget’s conservation task. The researchers supported Piaget’s theory that the percentage of children who get the answer right increases with age. But they also found that children from schools with a good academic reputation generally achieved better results than those from less privileged schools. This shows that education – a sociocultural factor – may play a significant role in the age at which a child shows cognitive milestones.

Piaget challenged the idea that children are passive and argued that children actively search for knowledge to better understand the world. He argued that this interaction with the environment created schema that were the basis for cognitive development. He also argued that there was a link between physical maturation and cognitive development.  Although we did not understand biology as well at this point in time, many of Piaget’s ideas today appear to be linked to brain development.

Piaget’s theory has some strengths and weaknesses. His theory was the first of its kind and has been applied in education.  Today a child’s stage of cognitive development is part of the planning and testing in schools. His theory also has some weaknesses; the original studies where too language based and the language may have been too advanced for the age group. In addition, Piaget may have underestimated the role of sociocultural factors, including education, family and peers.  This was a theory developed more by Vygotsky. In spite of the limitations, Piaget’s research remains important in developmental psychology.

730 words

Focus on the question: The beginning of the essay introduces the question.  The response is focused on the question and addresses the command term.  2 marks.

Knowledge and understanding: Concepts are well explained and there is good understanding of the theory. The concept of physical maturation and the idea that children are "active scientists" could be more developed. 5 marks

Use of research: Very good use of research to support the argument support and challenging Piaget's original theory.  6 marks.

Critical thinking: There is generally well-developed critical thinking, looking at both strengths and limitations of Piaget's research.  6 marks.

Clarity and organization: The answer demonstrates clarity and organization throughout the response.  2 marks

Total: 21 marks

Predicted: 7

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments