Kindergarten children who are not proficient in the three kinds of thinking that Piaget identified as central to cognitive development begin school at a disadvantage. Those who can not identify the odd object in a group (classification), understand the place of something in a series (seriation), or understand that quantity does not change unless there is something added or taken away (conservation) have difficulty learning from the activities typically designed for kindergarten children. Such deficits frequently predict poor academic achievement at least through the primary grades.
Previous research by Robert Pasnak demonstrated that remediating classification, seriation and conservation deficits during a three-month period in the middle of kindergarten produces significant improvements in reasoning, verbal comprehension and math skills.
In this original study, an experimental group of children, who had been identified as having cognitive problems with kindergarten work in the fall of the year, received help during the time ordinarily used for mathematics instruction.
The classroom aide instructed groups of five children for 15-20 minutes per day, three or four days a week for three months. They worked on number conservation; classification by form, size, orientation, texture, and function; and seriation by height, width, or overall size. During this period, the children solved 120 classification problems, 75 seriation problems and 120 conservation problems.
All problems were constructed from small, manipulable, everyday objects such as beans, Band-Aids or stones. The control group received the mathematics instruction normally offered by the school system which used cubes, geoboards, pattern blocks and teacher-prepared work sheets.
After three months’ instruction, the experimental group rejoined the control group in the conventional mathematics program.
Superior performance for experimental group
At the end of the year, the experimental group exhibited superior performance compared to the control group on the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Stanford Early Achievement Test.
The experimental group performed significantly higher in verbal comprehension, reasoning and mathematics. These results suggest that mastery of the three kinds of thinking Piaget identified as central to cognitive development at the preoperational and early concrete operational stages, makes children better able to profit from their kindergarten curriculum.
In a follow-up to this initial study, Robert Pasnak, Samantha E. Madden, Valerie A. Malabonga and Robert Holt, George Mason University, and Janice W. Martin, Austin Peay University, set out to determine whether the experimental students retained their advantage over the control students 15 months after the experiment. Retesting these same children more than a year later with the Otis-Lennon and the Metropolitan Achievement Test, Pasnak et al. found the differences between the experimental and control groups were still significant in reasoning and math skills.
The children who received the training continued to outperform those who did not, although the differences were somewhat smaller and there was no longer a significant difference in verbal comprehension.
In conclusion, the cognitive advantage resulting from teaching classification, seriation and conservation to low-performing kindergartners produced lasting gains in reasoning and mathematics ability at the end of first grade.
“Persistence of Gains from Instruction in Classification, Seriation, and Conservation”, The Journal of Educational Research, Volume 90, Number 2, December 1996, pp.87-92.
Published in ERN March/April 1997 Volume 10 Number 2.