Rosalind Driver Essay

Rosalind Driver has argued that children become ”˜the architects of their own knowledge,’ Discuss this contention in the light of recent cognitive theory. What implications does this contention have for the teaching of science.


The cognitive development of children undergoes several stages form the early age to the adult life, when the personality of an individual is shaped along with basic skills and abilities and the knowledge of the surrounding world. In such a situation, specialists argue concerning the factors that influence the formation of the personality of an individual and his or her cognitive developing during childhood. In this respect, it is possible to distinguish two main approaches. On the one hand, there is an approach supported by Rosalind Driver, according to which “children are architects of their knowledge”, while, on the other hand, there is a widely spread belief that children’s knowledge are shaped their social environment. In this respect, it obvious that the discussion over these issues is very important for understanding of children’s cognitive development and it is obvious that both views have their own strengths and weaknesses, but it is impossible to ignore neither the impact children’s subjective knowledge nor the impact of their social environment.



The development of the Cognitive theory contributed to the emergence of the totally new view on the development of children. In fact, the cognitive theory revealed the fact that the development of children occurs on the ground of basic principles which work in relation to all children. In such a way, researchers, such as Piagert, Vygotsky, and others, managed to find out basic stages of the development of children in their course of their formative years till they reach adulthood when their major skills and abilities as well as knowledge of the surrounding world are fully shaped. In this respect, it is important to understand the mechanism of the formation of children’s knowledge of the surrounding world and themselves. At this point, specialists still cannot come to agreement and arguments concerning the process of the knowledge formation persist. In this respect, it should be said that Rosalind Driver stands on the ground that children themselves are architects of their knowledge that implies that children study the surrounding world and shape their own views and knowledge of the surrounding world on the basis of their own judgments and views. However, this concept is challenged by supporters of the idea that the cognitive development of children and the formation of their basic knowledge of the surrounding world occurs under the impact of their social environment. Hence, children knowledge are conditioned by their social environment. In actuality, both views are quite arguable and radical in a way. This is why it would be logical to presuppose the existence of mutual impact of children’s subjective knowledge and consciousness and the impact of their social environment on the formation of their knowledge.

Rosalind Driver’s position

Basically, Rosalind Driver stands on the ground of a high level of independence and self-consciousness of children which determine their ability to learn information on the surrounding world and enlarge their knowledge consistently. They are able to develop their knowledge on the ground of their own experience. In fact, Rosalind Driver argues that it is children who shape their knowledge that means that the role of adults and other children can be defined as supportive or supplementary in regard to the formation of children’s knowledge.

Remarkably, Rosalind Driver successfully applies her vision of the cognitive development of children to the study of science.

In the study of the understanding of Science Concepts Driver (Driver, 1985) looked at how students develop their understanding of scientific concepts as they get older. Curriculum planning of when to deliver certain topics needs to look at the sequence of understanding necessary to grasp a certain concept. For example students are willing to accept matter conservation in solids and liquids before they do in gases. This is why students have trouble grasping concepts like the addition of oxygen to copper making a more massive copper oxide. They then experience problems with teaching about gaseous exchange systems like respiration because they do not understand the concepts behind them (Driver, 1978). A sequence leading up to respiration as a topic might then follow the course of Teaching about:

Gases as substantive → addition of gases to solids → cycling systems involving solids and liquids →   respiration (Driver, 1985).

This involves planning across the science disciplines and hopefully has been incorporated in the QCA schemes for KS3.

In such a way, Rosalind Driver attempts to show that students’ knowledge are based on their own experience and it is important to develop empirical knowledge of students to maximize the efficiency of learning.

The cognitive theory and alternative views on children’s cognitive development

In fact, the development of the cognitive theory is closely intertwined with works of such researchers as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Jean Piaget is the founder of cognitive development theory (Duckworth, 1990). Essentially, this theory identifies four stages in cognitive development.

Piaget’s stages of cognitive development:


Typical Age Range Description of Stage Developmental Phenomena
Birth to 2 Years Sensorimotor
Learn about the world through feeling, touching, tasting, etc.
Object permanence
Distinguishing strangers from friends
2 to 6 Years Pre-operational
Being able to communicate using words and images, but lacking basic logic and reasoning skills; believe that what they see is exactly what others see
Acting out roles of adults
Language development
7 to 11 Years Concrete Operational
Able to think logically about actual events, able to reverse arithmetic operations, understand matter conservation
Mathematical transformations
12 to Adulthood + Formal Operational
Abstract reasoning, ‘if I were’ situational thinking
Moral reasoning


(Source: Driscoll, M. 2000. Psychology of Learning for Instruction. 2nd Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.)

  1. Senorimotor stage (Infancy) ~ intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity
  2. Pre-operational stage (Toddler and early childhood) ~ intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, some language, imagination and memory.
  3. Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence) ~ intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic thought processes.
  4. Formal Operational Stage (Adolescence and adulthood) ~ intelligence is demonstrated through logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts.

For learning to occur, individuals must move through each cognitive state sequentially. In order to move out of a stage, the learner had to either assimilate (using or transforming the environment so that it can be placed in existing cognitive structures) or accommodate (changing cognitive structures in order to accept something) to the environment (Fisher and Lipson, 1986).

Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development acknowledges an individual’s current level of development and his/her potential level of development. Based on this theory, teachers are encouraged to provide the tools and support to a learner to solve a problem, carry out a task and/or achieve a goal which would not have been possible unassisted (Duckworth, 1987).

Both theories address cognitive abilities. According to Piaget, in order to teach adults and reach them, the adults must have entered the formal operational stage (Duckworth, 1990). Vygotsky encourages the adult learner to be challenged beyond their current abilities within their zone of proximal development so that the student can learn more and internalize the information (Gabel, 1994).

At the same time, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that Vygotsky rather tends to extrapolate the formation of children’s knowledge on the external factors, than their subjective consciousness and personal development. In fact, the idea that children’s knowledge are shaped under the impact of external factors, namely their social environment is very popular among scientists. In this respect, it should be said that the key point of this view is that children shape their views and beliefs on the basis of the information they perceive from their parents, other meaningful adults and their peers. Consequently, they cannot remain unaffected by the impact of the subjective view as well as knowledge of people around them. In other words, children cannot learn more than their parents can give them during first months and years of their life. As a result, knowledge of children of the surrounding world is based on their communication with parents.

However, it is impossible to ignore that empirical knowledge of children is also of the utmost importance. They have certain experience which they naturally extrapolate on the real world and which help them to learn independently of their parents and other adults or their peers. In this regard, it is possible to return to the position of Rosalind Driver, which seems to be correct. On the other hand, it is impossible to attribute children’s knowledge to their personal experience and skills solely. Consequently, it is obvious that there is certain interaction between empirical knowledge of children and the impact of their social environment. In such a way, under such a mutual impact their knowledge is fully shaped.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Rosalind Driver’s view on the cognitive development of children is quite noteworthy and, to a significant extent, this view is correct. Nevertheless, it should be said that the belief that children are architects of their knowledge is arguable since this view underestimates the impact of social environment of children and its impact on their knowledge. As a result, it is possible to estimate that the formation of children’s knowledge occurs under the impact of their empirical knowledge and their social environment.

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