How to Learn to Read According to Piaget's Stages
Teaching reading can be accomplished by using the first three of the four cognitive stages that psychologist/biologist Jean Piaget developed. The stages suggest that children begin by collecting sensory and motor information, and then gradually organize that information into first symbolic thoughts and then abstract ones. Reading requires both the understanding of symbolic thought to translate sounds into letters, and abstract thought to translate words into ideas. The fourth stage, formal operations, begins around age 12 and is concerned with adult-style abstract thought beyond that which is needed to learn to read.
Sensorimotor Stage (birth to age 2)
Provide soft books and board books that a baby can chew on and manipulate to introduce the idea that reading is important. Babies use sensory and motor experiences in this stage to build a knowledge base.
Read the baby's favorite books multiple times. Multiple readings teaches babies to recognize the speech patterns needed to understand text and facilitates the sensorimotor stage task of learning to prolong enjoyable things.
Point out interesting details in books you are reading. This teaches the words associated with the pictures. It also teaches a baby how to organize sensory information so that she can focus on the most important elements of the story, which is important for reading comprehension.
Preoperational Stage (age 2 to 7)
Continue to read often and be willing to read favorite stories multiple times. A child at this stage is beginning to generally understand past and future, but needs frequent repetitions of familiar stories to grasp sequences.
Ask open-ended questions about stories. Help the child develop the ability to switch perspective and understand the character's point of view. Egocentric perspective is characteristic of the preoperational stage. The ability to change perspectives is necessary for good reading comprehension because it enables readers to understand both characters and plot lines .
Respond to the child's developing understanding of symbolic thought with pre-reading activities. Introduce letters and numbers. As children begin to realize that words are symbols for ideas, point out environmental words such as "stop" and connect it with the action.
Reinforce the development of beginning logical thought. Introduce story sequences and basic book organization. Pre-reading tasks include the ideas that capital and lowercase letters serve the same phonetic function, and different fonts do not imply different meanings.
Concrete Operations (age 7 to 12)
Consider that logical and abstract thought are the characteristic developmental tasks at this stage. These cognitive skills form the baseline for reading with comprehension to develop. Build on the phonetic skills established during the preoperational stage to teach independent reading.
Use classroom discussions to reinforce emerging reading skills. Use discussions to explore the Piagetian tasks of learning to understand abstract concepts through literature. Encourage your student to use his emerging sequencing skills to predict what happens after the story is over. Have students share their ideas in discussion to maximize both comprehension and abstract reasoning.
Try dramatic reenactments to emphasize both emerging empathy skills and reading comprehension. Reenactments are especially helpful for students struggling with the change in perspective required to understand complex characterizations in literature. Consider reenactments especially for students who decode well but are in the early concrete operational stage. These students will sometimes have difficulty with comprehension despite strong decoding skills because they have not yet mastered the ability to change perspective.
- Education Resources Information Center: Center for Early Development and Education; Applying Piaget's Theory to Reading; Anna Heatherly; 1974
- Iowa State University Extension: Understanding Children: Learning to Read and Write; Lesia Oesterreich; 2003
- Shippensburg University: Jean Piaget and Cognitive Development; Dr. C. George Boeree; 2003
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