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Case Analysis Assignment According to Piaget’s Development Theory

Gulseren Arikan

Seattle Pacific University


Greg is an 11 year old male student who has just recently transitioned to middle school. He has been repeatedly sent to the principal for behavioral disruptions. Throughout elementary school, Greg was reported as being one the highest achieving and well mannered students; however, until recently he has been reported as being disruptive and inattentive. Greg’s homeroom teacher has reported that he has quit doing classroom assignments and frequently interrupts guidance lessons. He also has been reported as acting indifferent to his studies and expectations. There has been no previous history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with Greg.

Contrary to Greg’s academic concerns, he has been reported as becoming more engaged in physical activities as well as competitive sports. He has appeared to be quite successful in developing a social network and is interested in spending time with friends. Greg has also become considered the “class clown” of his school.


The Theory of Cognitive Development, developed by Jean Piaget, conceptualizes the development as an active construction process which occurs through an ordered sequence (Devlin, 2009). As Kohlberg stated, according to Piaget, children are constantly exploring, manipulating, and trying to make sense of the environment; and in this process, they actively construct new and elaborate structures of dealing with it (Crain, 2005). Piaget proposes that there are four different, increasingly sophisticated stages of mental representation from childhood to the adulthood level of intelligence: Sensorimotor (Period I, Birth to 2 years), Preoperational (Period II, 2 to 7 years), Concrete Operations (Period III, 7 to 11 years), Formal Operations (Period IV, 11 to adulthood). Piaget states that these stages are constructed by children themselves. As Dr. Devlin stated in the lecture notes, “Consideration is given to both maturational and environmental influences; however, emphasis is placed on the internal construction of cognitive structures” (Devlin, 2009).

According to the Cognitive Development Theory, the case explained above, may be an example of an unsuccessful move from stage three to the stage four. During this period, some elements for a successful transition may be missing or disoriented. According to the facts about Greg, who was a well-mannered and the highest achieving student in the elementary school, he has successfully lived the third stage, but there is not a sign that he had successfully completed the stage, he may still be in this stage in some scale.

Moreover, Greg’s previous knowledge may be interfering with the new knowledge and he might have encountered difficulties with integrating his previous schemes to his new setting (middle school).For instance, he might have had problems with abstract learning, which may be the reason behind the failures in his academic progress. In other words, Greg might have failed in assimilating and accommodating the new information. For a healthy transition, the individual should change the ideas in his head to fit the realities of external objects or ideas. Greg might have had a problem in this step (Atherton, 2009). Piaget explains this problem as disequilibrium “which involves the person striking a balance between himself and the environment and between assimilation and accommodation (Ginn, 2009)”.

Another reason behind his disruptive behaviors may be his new interpretation of moral judgment. Greg might have had a transition from a moral heteronomy to a consideration of other possibilities and sources of moral understanding. Children in stage 4 have a more relativistic view, they understand that it is permissible to change rules if everyone agrees:

“Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices that humans use to get along cooperatively… Younger children base their moral judgments more on consequences, whereas older children base their judgments on their intentions” (Crain, 2009).

As Greg moves into formal operations stage, he is able to think more long term and incorporate future possibilities, and concerns which may result in a different moral understanding and may cause disruptive behaviors.

According to the theory, the reason behind Greg’s success with his social skills may be a reappearing of egocentrism. Piaget states that egocentrism appears whenever child enters new realms of intellectual life (Crain, 2005). Changes in Greg’s attitudes started when he enrolled to middle school. Adolescent egocentrism might have heightened self-consciousness in him so that he wants to become his class’ clown. This egocentrism might have affected his moral judgment, and may have fueled the disruptive behaviors as well.

Based on the theory, Greg should focus on some areas and changes to have a successful transition from stage 3 to stage 4. First of all, Greg should focus on assimilating the new information, data, and ideas he learned in his new classes and in new settings he encountered in the middle school. He should prepare himself to accommodate the new information and create an equilibrium between the data he newly learned and the data he had known. According to Lavatelli, as quoted in (Ginn, 2009):

“When a child experiences a new event, disequilibrium sets in until he is able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium. There are many types of equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation that vary with the levels of development and the problems to be solved. For Piaget, equilibration is the major factor in explaining why some children advance more quickly in the development of logical intelligence than do others”.

Thus, Greg should work on building an equilibration; he should be open to changes and adaptations; he should figure out his weaknesses in his classes, and if any problem exists in his abstract learning, he should work on it as well.

Secondly, he should focus on his moral judgment: Whether he is open to his teachers’ understanding of moral judgment or not. He should focus on the moral expectations of his parent’s, school authority, and teachers’, so that he may compare the expectations of the outer world with his inner world and ideas. Since children start to think about many different possibilities in transition process from stage 3 to stage 4, Greg also has the potential to learn the approaches of others, and he may listen to them if his egocentrism doesn’t overcome his conscience. So, the third area he should focus on is his understanding of others; briefly he should focus on the egocentrism in himself.

Since Greg is an 11-year old child, it is not realistic to wait him to do all this analysis and work on his cognitive development solely by himself. His teachers have also some responsibilities to help Greg to overcome the problems that he has faced in this difficult transition process. His teachers should implement some strategies to help him. First of all, teachers have to be sensitive and flexible, and as mentioned in (Crain, 2005), teachers should be willing to learn from the child, they should be guided by the student, and they should make some adoptions in their instructions according to their observations about Greg. Piaget states that teachers should be facilitators of knowledge (Ginn, 2009). Besides these observations, Greg may be acknowledged about cognitive stages and the transition process, with which he is struggling.

Another strategy that may be implemented is that teachers may calibrate their approach of moral judgment: “As long as children feel dominated by an authority who knows the “right” answer, they will have difficulty appreciating differences in perspectives (Crain, 2009)”. So, teachers should emphasize cooperative decision-making and problem solving, nurturing moral development by requiring Greg and other students to work out common rules based on fairness (UIC, 2009).

As a fourth strategy, Greg’s social interactions should be encouraged. Piaget emphasizes on the great educational value of social interactions, however, teachers should be aware of Greg’s egocentrism which results in disruptive behaviors. Piaget suggests group discussions in which children feel a basic equality; by this way Greg may have a better opportunity to deal with different viewpoints. Greg also should be guided towards building empathy towards others.

Finally, according to Piaget’s constructivist developmental theory, which is based on discovery, an ideal learning environment should allow children to construct knowledge that is meaningful for them (Ozer, 2004). Therefore, for ameliorating the academic achievement of Greg, teachers should form an active learning environment based on his interests, and they should let Greg to discover.

After implementing those strategies, some improvements are expected to be observed about Greg. According to the theory, Greg will desire to maintain an equilibrium of organizational thinking; egocentrism in Greg will return as the capacity to abstractly explore thoughts and ideas is reached; and the ability to think in abstract and hypothetical terms will be accomplished (Devlin, 2009). In other words, disruptive behaviors in Greg will diminish, he will improve his academic achievement, and his relations with other students and teachers will be improved in a positive direction. Hopefully, a great cooperation based on Piaget’s developmental theory amongst Greg, his teachers and his parents will bring successful results and may help Greg to integrate his new experiences to his previous experiences.


1) Atherton, J. S. (n.d.). Learning and Teaching; Assimilation and Accommodation. Retrieved July 30, 2009, from

2) Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

3) Ginn, W. Y. (n.d.). Piaget's theory applied to an early childhood curriculum. In Jean Piaget - intellectual development. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from

4) Devlin, J. M. (2009). Lecture Notes of EDU 6655

5) Ozer, O. (2004). Constructivism in Piaget and Vygotsky. Fountain Magazine

6) University of Illinois . (n.d.). In Moral development and moral education: An overview. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from


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