Children’s Psychology 2 x 1000 word essays

ESSAY 1: Children’s social and cognitive development.


Children’s social and cognitive development can be witnessed in the context of schooling and the ways culture has been found to shape cognition. Following from Bishop’s (1988 in Abreu and Cline 2003:11) discoveries that “mathematics needs to be understood as a kind of cultural knowledge” and Vygotsky’s work establishing links between culture and mathematical cognition, de Abreu & Cline (2003:12) find that “mathematical activities are both culturally and socially organised.” Since communities appropriate particular cultural traditions to shape their selection of mathematical resources, in Vygotksy’s terms, cultural tools shape thinking, highlighting the importance of the cultural construction of mathematical processes and processing. A Brazilian sugar farming family’s reliance upon an indigenous system of measurement based upon ‘braças’(see de Abreu & Cline 2003:12), illustrates this link between cultural research and children’s cognitive development. Scholars are bemused as to why pupils do not always transfer their approach to handling mathematical concepts in a natural culturally constructed environment to the classroom formal learning context (de Abreu and Cline 2003:13). One explanation is found in the “relationship between the social-political order and individual learning” (de Abreu and Cline 2003:13). The notions of personal and social planes of use of mathematical knowledge and skills in this example are sometimes at odds with each other, depending upon the social value attributed to the social plane of knowledge by the particular socio-economic of ethnic group.

The expert in the form of the teacher consciously or unconsciously structures the interactions with knowledge in school settings, bringing some degree of the personal and social plane together in their own modelling and drawing such from the pupil. The outcome can be the “growing of mathematical cognitive competence at interpersonal and personal levels” (de Abreu and Cline 2003:13) for the pupil.


A child also acquires a social identity as a consumer and user of subject related knowledge. This is a significant dimension of learning, which should inform pedagogical decisions and practice. One example is when children were expected to rote learn multiplication tables, with the placement of this outcome at the centre of the UK’s primary mathematics program, followed by its demise and present resurrection through “the demands of the National Numeracy Strategy may turn it again into a highly valued tool” (de Abreu and Cline 2003:14). The mastery or lack thereof of multiplication tables in part defines a child’s social identity as a consumer of mathematics, demonstrating the nature of the link between cultural research and children’s cognitive and social development. The above example of the place occupied by the multiplication tables at historical moments in the development of syllabi, illustrates the notion of the social valorisation of mathematical practices (de Abreu and Cline 2003:15).


In broader terms, schools have multifarious influences upon a child’s development and one of the now known socio-cultural realities of schools is how they enshrine specific sets of cultural values through their cultural practices. In this light, not only is it clear that schools shape social and cognitive development in particular ways, but that they also value specific values over others, due to the way they function and the basis of their ethos. Children learn formally and informally in a school setting and by virtue of being part of a school community. Apart from the conventions of a conventional classroom, which may validate and replicate teacher directed learning, placing an onus upon children to be good listeners, note-takers and auditory learners, some classes and teaching philosophies position pupils as negotiators of curriculum, and as such, diversity issues such as gender, race, religion and social class may be more validated in schools that consciously pursue policies of inclusion and diversity. Quantitative cross-national studies in school performance and curriculum emphasis have been conducted in recent decades, by researchers such as Cole (2002). His maths/science comparisons underlines the importance of cross country dialogue to promote best teaching practices in this global era of modern education. The analysis of relative national performance remains a complex endeavour, as it is difficult to identify and control all the independent variables.

Moreover, in an ethnographic study within German, American, and Japanese classrooms, Stigler and Hiebert concluded that German teaching focused upon developing advanced procedures. In this application of best practice, the teachers lead the students through the development of procedures, including their rationale and the general classes of problems for which they are appropriate. Meanwhile, Japanese teachers organised structured problem solving. They present demanding problems and organise the students to engage in active problem solving. Their major role is to design and orchestrate the lessons. Finally, the U.S. teachers sought to have their students learn terms and practice procedures. The content of the lessons was less demanding and less mathematical reasoning was expected. Such findings can illuminate the pedagogy of all countries if there is the commitment to continuous improvement in the educational process.


The function of cultural differences as they pertain to cognitive and social development becomes more evident when cross cultural comparisons of parenting and family values are made. Rogoff (2003) poses the question of how we could conceptualise human development as a cultural process in which all children develop as participants in their cultural communities. While traditional studies described processes of infant socialisation in accordance with the norms and stages appropriate to middle class industrialised societies, nowadays, socialisation tends to be considered in its social context. A multi-site ethnographic study titled “The six culture study” by Whiting & Edwards, (1988) posed the question: how do socio-cultural conditions influence the behaviours of mothers? The three distinct styles were The “Training” mother – Africa;  The ”Controlling” mother – Philippines, Mexico & North India;   and The ”Sociable” mother –America.


Such findings are indicative of the need to advance our understanding of the links between children’s social and cognitive development and cultural research illumination of the topics. These are more urgent given our increasingly global context of learning and work. They can be witnessed within the context of schooling and the ways culture has been found to shape cognition.









Reading List

Bishop, A. (1988) Mathematical Enculturation: a cultural perspective on mathematics education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.


Cole (2002) Operating Outside Classrooms




De Abreu and Cline, T. (2003) Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Volume 11, Number 1, 2003 11Schooled Mathematics and Cultural Knowledge, University of Luton, United Kingdom


Rogoff (2003) Personal Identities formation Social development


Stigler and Hiebert (1999) The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom, Simon and Schuster, London

Whiting and Edwards (19988) Multi-site ethnographic studies “The six culture study”

















ESSAY 2: Examine the view that children’s cultural identity development must be studied as located in cultural practices, which can vary between different institutions in different societies, and not as located directly in the person.


The locating of a child’s cultural identity formation within a range of cultural practices is a radical but empowering step towards developing appropriate educational paradigms for children of diverse ethnic and societal origins. The further proposition that these cultural practices change depending on which social institution a child is interacting with, is another vital component to reformulating social service delivery so that children of minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds are well catered for.

According to de Abreu and Cline (2003:17), “Wenger and post-Vygotskian scholars share the view that identity formation needs to be conceptualised as located in practice.” This is certainly postulated in relation to socio-political paradigms helpful in better understanding how learning occurs and why certain groups of pupils may be resistant to learning or disenfranchised from a learning process. Two key principles concerning the formation of a child’s cultural identity are that the “development of identities in learning is associated with specific practices and, secondly, the view that social identity formation involves access to social representations” (Abreu and Cline 2003:17). Moreover, Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco (2001:90) address the challenge that children of immigrants have when they assimilate into a western society such as the USA. These writers speak of the dual filter such children have, and the instinctive comparisons they make between their culture of origin and their new one. The writers further speak of the pressures to adopt the western cultural practices and in so doing, shed their original cultural practices. This transitional process, as ambivalent about it as parents witnessing it may feel, demonstrates how a child’s cultural identity must be examined with regard to specific cultural practices.

Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco (2001:93) also note that not only are migrants often caught between cultures and thereby unsure of their identity, but they are denied the richness of the social experience that is contingent upon work and educational levels. One plaguing question these authors raise is the extent to which schools replicate social inequalities (2001:93). Critical in this regard is the cultural practices pertaining to racial stereotyping, psychological disparagement and glass ceilings for migrant employment prospects and how these dynamics directly impact a child’s perception of learning and how they interpret the way social values are weighted by teachers and the experience of learning (see Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco (2001:94). In this regard, scholars have become interested in the link between the construction of identity threat from cultural hegemonic imposition and the resultant impact such erosion if identity may have on academic attainment (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001:94).

The experience of the migrant child may be one of assimilation resulting in loss of original cultural practices, or it may be a path of flight, expressed as becoming oppositional towards mainstream cultural institutions (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001:107). In this case, a child’s cultural identity development may be described as an identity of rejection. In this sense speaking Standard English and doing well at school may be viewed as kow-towing to the mainstream which they feel has already rejected them (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001:107).  It is perhaps tragic when the option of school attainment is over laden with connotations of ethnic betrayal, yet this is less likely to be the case when ethnic families have greater human capital (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001:123).

To counter this rather sobering vision of the alienation of migrant children who are trapped with a choice to either immerse themselves in western cultural values and sacrifice their origin culture, or alternatively flee from the mainstream and become alienated from it, Jensen (2003:189)  argues in effect that adolescents usually has more resources at their disposal, so can “increasingly form multicultural identities because they grow up knowing diverse cultural beliefs and behaviours.” The driving force underpinning this shift in cultural identity formation for the adolescence may be globalisation. Jensen (2003:189), more positively, acknowledges that the “issue of how cultural identity formation may take diverse developmental paths depending on the particular cultures involved.” An example such as “Condon’s ethnography reflecting how Inuit adolescents form multicultural identities that incorporate diverse beliefs and practices” (Jensen 2003:192) is more positive than the cases of disenfranchised latinos failing within the American mainstream education system that Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco (2001) underscore. While the advent of globalisation brings challenges to identity and does assist the premise of this paper that such identities reside in a range of distinct cultural practices, Jensen (2003:195) contends that this amalgam creates the environment for children to develop a new skill set not only enabling “necessary for a multicultural world, that allow adolescents to function well psychologically and to contribute to society.”

In the example of Portuguese students in Channel Islands schools, language competence was experienced as one key dimension of the students’ cultural identities. This was revealed through “feeling empowered by the mastery of cultural tools, such as being fluent in the Portuguese language; feeling dis-empowered when the differences linked to their Portuguese identity were not recognised and accepted or when treated as showing lack of “English” competence” (Abreu & Lambert 2003:200).

Doucet and Suarez-Orozco (2006:182) in a study of Haitian immigrants and their culturally situated identity challenges, notes an urgent need exists to create clear theoretical concepts of how developing world migrants can be catered for effectively within the school system. With such an influx of immigrants from the developing world arriving in Western countries, “the pattern of racialisation and adversarial identity formation within the school context is deeply concerning” (Doucet and Suarez-Orozco (2006:182). The imperative of globalisation makes this adjustment process more urgent and the realization that cultural identity is situated in cultural practices means their analysis is critical to aid pupils efforts to “move fluidly from context to context…to function as global citizens” (Doucet and Suarez-Orozco 2006:182).








Reading List

Abreu, G. d., & Lambert, H. (2003). The education of Portuguese students in England and the Channel Islands schools. Final Report.: Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University,

Retrieved from on 20 March 2010


Condon, R. G. (1988). Inuit youth: Growth and change in the Canadian Arctic. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press


De Abreu and Cline, T. (2003) Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Volume 11, Number 1, 2003 11Schooled Mathematics and Cultural Knowledge, University of Luton, United Kingdom


Doucet, F., & Suarez-Orozco, C. (2006). Ethnic identity and schooling: The experiences of Haitian immigrant youth. In L. Romanucci-Ross, G. De Vos, & T. Tsuda (Eds.) Ethnic identity: Creation, conflict, and accommodation (4th ed., pp. 163-188). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press


 Jensen, L. A. (2003). Coming to age in a multicultural world: globalisation and adolescent cultural identity formation. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 189-196.


Suarez-Orozco, C., & Suarez-Orozco, M. M. (2001). Children of Immigration. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard


Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.