Operating on the reality at the ‘formal operational’ level

Operating on the reality at the ‘formal operational’ level

Operating on the reality at the ‘formal operational’ level

 A constructivist will position itself in the belief that knowledge is constructed by a person, if you take this discourse to a classroom setting, the implication of this stance has led to the growth of educational scenarios that prioritize the need to encourage higher involvement of learners in their accumulation of intellectual knowledge (Larochelle & Bednarz, 1998). The fundamental question that arises is how does a learner construct this knowledge? Piaget’s work has been predominant in the exploration of the ‘active child’ who notice (accommodate) and interpret (assimilate) (Flavell, 1996) environmental inputs through the use of the cognitive frameworks and processing strategies existing at their current stage of development, whose ultimate goal is the development of the formal operational thought (Kuhn, 1979).

At an abstract level, Piaget’s conception of formal operation gives a picture of “operations on operations” (Kuhn, 1979; Byrnes, 1988). It is a system of second-order operations (Roberge & Flexer, 1979) indicative of the tip in the ontogenesis of the cognitive system (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Piaget, 1972). In other words, the child who operated at a concrete operational stage of 'first-order' where he had been able to organize the set of components into logical class attributed x and y based on the identification of their shared characteristics, has now attained competence in his adolescence to infer the relationship between the class of elements in x and y, implying a 'second-order operation', that is thus termed as operations on operations (Kuhn, 1979).

 In the development of formal operational thoughts, there are two central cognitive techniques ( Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Kuhn, 1979; Ilic, 2015), in the first one the individual operates in the terms of the systemic combination of all possible elements whereas in the second one the individual can isolate the variables by using all ‘other thing equal’ as a cognitive strategy. Therefore, the ability of an adolescent to adopt the reasoning in the form of a verbally stated hypothesis and move beyond the manipulation of concrete objects indicates the formal reasoning process where an adolescent is engaged in thinking hypothetically and deducing the implied consequences of the hypothesis (Piaget, 1972). The importance of such a form of reasoning lies in the ability of an adolescent to move beyond the logical reasoning process of applying operations in present to concrete objects to a ‘combinatorial system of thinking’ (Piaget, 1972; Kuhn, 1979) in operation this can be seen when adolescents reason in a suppositional manner (Piaget, 1972) thereby not just arranging reality by linking of all possibilities to one another but also moving beyond towards the ambit of possibility. The cognitive stage of the formal operation is not a universal phenomenon (Piaget, 1972; Blasi & Hoeffel, 1974; Kuhn, 1979; Berk, 1998) and individuals rarely have the chance to construct and carry out controlled experiments in their everyday lives yet individuals will be posed with several limitations if they fail to maximize to formal operational thoughts.

The strategy we adopt for understanding the reality around us is a consequence of the knowledge we have accumulated over time by operating on our environment (Glasersfeld, 1998). There are multiple dimensions for deconstructing the nature of our reality, at a concrete operational level by using the strategies like classification, reversibility, multiplication, serialization, or cumulation we assemble the reality from one dimension to another, it is at the formal operational level that we attain the ability to integrate the reality in these successive dimensions (Kuhn, 1979). Therefore, one of the limitations of the failure to progress at the formal operational level lies in the inability of an individual to catch the multiplicity of the variables and the relationship between them while constructing our reality, which can result in contradiction and inconsistency in our reasoning. A study conducted in 1977 by Kuhn & Brannock showed when adults were provided with a problem statement there was significant variability in their response indicating an error of ‘false inclusion' (i.e. each element present in a case is assumed to contribute to the result) which is a typical feature of concrete operational thought. At a workplace or educational institute arguments and engaging with diversity of discourses will require hypothetical reasoning, by using hypothesis we can approve or disapprove of an opponent’s point of view and draw logical propositions which are possible only when we are operating at a formal operational level since at this stage problems are solved by reducing reality to multiple possibilities and mentally examining these possibilities by using “propositional reasoning” which is absent at a concrete operational level (Nolen, 1976; Mu¨ller, Sokol, & Overton, 1999).

The problems that are beyond the field of experience of an individual are of interest to them if they can operate on them in a hypothetical-deductive way, therefore, ability to generalize the comprehension and understanding with same curiosity and ingenuities in the field which is unfamiliar to the current career or other interest areas is different from just merely dissociating the system from content (Piaget, 1972). Hence, such typical trait of individuals operating at formal operational thought enables them to understand the prevalent discourses shaping the reality around them and construct their ideologies to a point that it is attended by the longing to change the society by rebelling it (in his imagination or even reality) with a desire to create a world which is an improvement on previous one (Piaget, 1972). Innovation, critical thinking, and creativity in our work and learning outcomes are some of the essential skills required for success in this rapidly changing 21st century (UNESCO, 1991) therefore, operating at a concrete operation’s rudimentary understanding of the reality can lead to a limited scope of engaging with the environment and at a ‘cognitive sense-having a measure of control over the environment’ (Kuhn, 1979).

Research has indicated that adults and adolescents are unable to work at the formal operational level in a way that theories have assumed (Neimark, 1975; Kuhn, 1979) yet there has been a general acceptance that a level of thinking beyond concrete operations occur as studies have shown (Kuhn & Angelev, 1976; Adams, 1978; Kuhn & Ho, 1978; Kuhn, 1979) even in the absence of explicit teaching and modeling if individuals are provided with enough opportunities stimulating a formal operational thought the cognitive strategies typical of this stage will develop. Operating on the reality at the ‘formal operational’ level

 A constructivist will position itself in the belief that knowledge is constructed by a person, if you take this discourse to a classroom setting, the implication of this stance has led to the growth of educational scenarios that prioritize the need to encourage higher involvement of learners in their accumulation of intellectual knowledge (Larochelle & Bednarz, 1998). The fundamental question that arises is how does a learner construct this knowledge? Piaget’s work has been predominant in the exploration of the ‘active child’ who notice (accommodate) and interpret (assimilate) (Flavell, 1996) environmental inputs through the use of the cognitive frameworks and processing strategies existing at their current stage of development, whose ultimate goal is the development of the formal operational thought (Kuhn, 1979).

At an abstract level, Piaget’s conception of formal operation gives a picture of “operations on operations” (Kuhn, 1979; Byrnes, 1988). It is a system of second-order operations (Roberge & Flexer, 1979) indicative of the tip in the ontogenesis of the cognitive system (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Piaget, 1972). In other words, the child who operated at a concrete operational stage of 'first-order' where he had been able to organize the set of components into logical class attributed x and y based on the identification of their shared characteristics, has now attained competence in his adolescence to infer the relationship between the class of elements in x and y, implying a 'second-order operation', that is thus termed as operations on operations (Kuhn, 1979).

 In the development of formal operational thoughts, there are two central cognitive techniques ( Inhelder & Piaget, 1958; Kuhn, 1979; Ilic, 2015), in the first one the individual operates in the terms of the systemic combination of all possible elements whereas in the second one the individual can isolate the variables by using all ‘other thing equal’ as a cognitive strategy. Therefore, the ability of an adolescent to adopt the reasoning in the form of a verbally stated hypothesis and move beyond the manipulation of concrete objects indicates the formal reasoning process where an adolescent is engaged in thinking hypothetically and deducing the implied consequences of the hypothesis (Piaget, 1972). The importance of such a form of reasoning lies in the ability of an adolescent to move beyond the logical reasoning process of applying operations in present to concrete objects to a ‘combinatorial system of thinking’ (Piaget, 1972; Kuhn, 1979) in operation this can be seen when adolescents reason in a suppositional manner (Piaget, 1972) thereby not just arranging reality by linking of all possibilities to one another but also moving beyond towards the ambit of possibility. The cognitive stage of the formal operation is not a universal phenomenon (Piaget, 1972; Blasi & Hoeffel, 1974; Kuhn, 1979; Berk, 1998) and individuals rarely have the chance to construct and carry out controlled experiments in their everyday lives yet individuals will be posed with several limitations if they fail to maximize to formal operational thoughts.

The strategy we adopt for understanding the reality around us is a consequence of the knowledge we have accumulated over time by operating on our environment (Glasersfeld, 1998). There are multiple dimensions for deconstructing the nature of our reality, at a concrete operational level by using the strategies like classification, reversibility, multiplication, serialization, or cumulation we assemble the reality from one dimension to another, it is at the formal operational level that we attain the ability to integrate the reality in these successive dimensions (Kuhn, 1979). Therefore, one of the limitations of the failure to progress at the formal operational level lies in the inability of an individual to catch the multiplicity of the variables and the relationship between them while constructing our reality, which can result in contradiction and inconsistency in our reasoning. A study conducted in 1977 by Kuhn & Brannock showed when adults were provided with a problem statement there was significant variability in their response indicating an error of ‘false inclusion' (i.e. each element present in a case is assumed to contribute to the result) which is a typical feature of concrete operational thought. At a workplace or educational institute arguments and engaging with diversity of discourses will require hypothetical reasoning, by using hypothesis we can approve or disapprove of an opponent’s point of view and draw logical propositions which are possible only when we are operating at a formal operational level since at this stage problems are solved by reducing reality to multiple possibilities and mentally examining these possibilities by using “propositional reasoning” which is absent at a concrete operational level (Nolen, 1976; Mu¨ller, Sokol, & Overton, 1999).

The problems that are beyond the field of experience of an individual are of interest to them if they can operate on them in a hypothetical-deductive way, therefore, ability to generalize the comprehension and understanding with same curiosity and ingenuities in the field which is unfamiliar to the current career or other interest areas is different from just merely dissociating the system from content (Piaget, 1972). Hence, such typical trait of individuals operating at formal operational thought enables them to understand the prevalent discourses shaping the reality around them and construct their ideologies to a point that it is attended by the longing to change the society by rebelling it (in his imagination or even reality) with a desire to create a world which is an improvement on previous one (Piaget, 1972). Innovation, critical thinking, and creativity in our work and learning outcomes are some of the essential skills required for success in this rapidly changing 21st century (UNESCO, 1991) therefore, operating at a concrete operation’s rudimentary understanding of the reality can lead to a limited scope of engaging with the environment and at a ‘cognitive sense-having a measure of control over the environment’ (Kuhn, 1979).

Research has indicated that adults and adolescents are unable to work at the formal operational level in a way that theories have assumed (Neimark, 1975; Kuhn, 1979) yet there has been a general acceptance that a level of thinking beyond concrete operations occur as studies have shown (Kuhn & Angelev, 1976; Adams, 1978; Kuhn & Ho, 1978; Kuhn, 1979) even in the absence of explicit teaching and modeling if individuals are provided with enough opportunities stimulating a formal operational thought the cognitive strategies typical of this stage will develop.

 

References

 Adams, C. (1978). Introducing formal operational reasoning during old age.

Unpublished Master's Thesis. California: California State University, Fullerton. Berk, L. (1998).

Development Through the Lifespan. Pearson. Blasi A, & Hoeffel E, C. (1974).

 Adolescence and Formal Operations. Human Development, 17:344-363. DOI:10.1159/000271357 Byrnes, J. P. (1988).

Formal Operations: A Systematic Reformulation. Development Review, 66-87. Flavell, J. H. (1996).

 Piaget's Legacy. Psychological Science, 7, 200-203. Glasersfeld, E. V. (1998).

 Why constructivism must be radical. In M. Larochelle, N. Bednarz, & J. Garrison, Constructivism, and Education (pp. 23-28).

Cambridge University Press. Ilic, I. Z. (2015). Asymmetrical peer interaction is a factor of formal operations development in more competent students. Psihologija, 149-163.

 Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence. New York: Basic. Kuhn, D. (1979).

The Significance of Piaget's Formal Operations Stage in Education. The Journal of Education, 161, 34-50.

Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/42773106 Kuhn, D., & Angelev, J. (1976)

 An Experimental Study of the Development of Formal Operational Thought. Child Development, 697-706. Kuhn, D., & Brannock, J. (1977).

 Development of the isolation of variables scheme in experimental and "natural experiment". Developmental Psychology, 590-600. Kuhn, D., & Ho, V. (1978).

 The role of self-directed activity in the development of logical reasoning. Preliminary version to appear in the Yearbook of the Jean Piaget Society. Kuhn, D., Ho, V., & Adams, C. (1979).

Formal Reasoning among Pre- and Late Adolescence. Child Development, 1128-1135. Larochelle, M., & Bednarz, N. (1998).

Constructivism and Education: Beyond Epistemological Correctness. In M. Larochelle, N. Bednarz, & J. Garrison, Constructivism, and Education (pp. 3-20). USA: Cambridge University Press. Mu¨ller, U., Sokol, B., & Overton, W. F. (1999).

 Developmental Sequences in Class Reasoning and Propositional Reasoning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 74, 69–106. Neimark, E. (1975).

Intellectual development during adolescence. Review of Child Development Research. Nolen, P. A. (1976).

Implications of Formal Operational Thinking at College Level. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1, 269- 273. Piaget, J. (1972).

 Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 15, 1-12. Roberge, J. J., & Flexer, B. K. (1979). Further Examination of Formal OP

 

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Himani Verma
Research Assistant.

Himani is a former teacher who has served in a government school in Delhi for two years. She is currently a scholar pursuing her Master's in the Ta

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