I.  Formal Operational Thought

            A. Characteristics

·        Thinking of children turns into that of adolescents

·        Adolescents are able to use prepositional logic—they are able to reason, systematize their ideas, construct theories and test them scientifically and logically

·        Elkind calls this stage the conquest of thought


Piaget’s experiment to discover strategies used for problem solving

·        Problem was to find out what would affect the oscillatory speed of the pendulum

·        The subjects were free to investigate four possible effects and solving the problem any way they chose

·        They showed 3 basic characteristics in problem solving

o       They planned their investigations systematically and testing all possible causes for variation in the pendulum swings

o       Then they recorded the results actively and objectively

o       Finally, they formed logical conclusions

·        Children might have come up with the right answer by trial and error, but didn’t use systematic procedures to find the answer and give logical explanations for their solutions


·        To do formal operational thinking, adolescents are able to be flexible—they can be versatile with their thoughts and possible outcomes

·        Adolescents are now able to use a second symbol system: a set of symbols of symbols (i.e., algebraic signs and metaphorical speech are signs symbols numbers and/or words)…words can now carry multiple meanings

·        Adolescents are also able to orient themselves toward what is abstract and not immediately present –this allows them to distinguish btwn possibility from present reality—to think about the future and what might be


·        According to Piaget, formal thinking involves four major aspects

1.      introspection- thinking about thought

2.      abstract thinking- going beyond the real to what is possible

3.      logical thinking- being able to consider all impt facts and ideas to form correct conclusions

4.      hypothetical reasoning – formulating hypothesis and examining the evidence for them


B. Effects on Personality and Behavior


·        more capable of moral reasoning- they are able to distinguish the possible from the real;  realize that the actual is less than the ideal and become idealistic rebels

·        some adolescents for a while develop a messianic complex, seeing themselves in a major effort to reform the world

·        by late adolescence, attention shifts from egocentrism to a newfound sociocentrism—they begin to focus on values that have long-term implications rather than those that emphasize immediate gratification and goal satisfaction—focus attention on others rather than self

·        they become champions of the underdogs—can identify with the oppressed, the victims of selfish society, the poor, and the weak



·        adolescents are sometimes accused of hypocrisy because of the discrepancy between what they say and what they actually do

o       i.e., a boy gets annoyed that his brother came into his room and took his things;  but still went into his father’s room to use his calculator, typewriter, etc

·        early adolescents can formulate general principles but lack the experience to see the application of these general rules to specific practice.

·        They believe that if they can conceive and express high morals, they have attained them, and that nothing concrete needs to be done- adults are upset by this b/c know that ideals cannot be attained instantly

·        Adolescents also tend to pretend to be what they not—ie, conform to parental viewpoints, expected to like school but don’t, expected not to be hurt or angry when they really are, etc.


Self-Consciousness and Egocentrism

·        Capacity to think about their own thoughts makes them acutely aware of themselves, leading them to become egocentric, self-conscious, and introspective

·        Personal fable—adolescents’ belief in the uniqueness of their own experiences (this might explain why so many often think that misfortunes such as unwanted pregnancies happen to others, not them)

·        They believe others are looking at them, but feel alone in an uncaring universe

·        This imposes a terrible emotional strain, to feel they’re always on stage—develop defense mechanisms to protect (i.e., sarcasm,)

·        They are also often self-admiring though



·        Adolescents become less creative—they have greater potential than before but they have pressures on them to conform from peers and society

·        To gain acceptance, they squelch their individuality and begin to dress, think and act like others in groups they want to belong

·        As they go further into adolescence they become more self-monitoring


Decentering and a Life Plan

·        In the process of becoming adults, adolescents gradually begin to cure themselves of their idealistic crises and return to the reality of adulthood

·        The adolescent becomes an adult when he has a real job

·        Piaget thinks that work experience helps stimulate the development of social understanding and socially competent behavior

C. Achieving Formal Operational Thought

            Ages and Percentages

·        Transition usually occurs between age of 15-20

·        Affected by social and economic envt; mentally retarded have absence of formal operations

Maturation and Intelligence

·        Nervous system must be sufficiently developed for any real thought to take place

·        Those with high IQs  are more likely to develop formal thought sooner –but, it is the interaction of age and intelligence that contributes to cognitive ability

Cross-Cultural Studies

·        Some cultures offer more opportunities to develop abstract reasoning—i.e., rich verbal envt and experience in problem-solving

·        Schools and parents who encourage academic excellence and problem solving skills also enhance cognitive development

D. Adolescent Education and Formal Operational Thought

·        Students are used to lectures, and memorization and sometimes have difficulty adjusting to free thinking—discussions, debates, and experiments can help solve this problem

·        Piaget’s two goals of education:

o       To create men who are capable of new things

o       Form minds which can be critical, can very and not accept everything they are offered

E.  Problem Finding Stage

·        Fifth stage of cognitive development characterized by the ability to create, to discover, and formulate problems

II. Scholastic Aptitude          

A.     Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

·        The most widely used test fro youths to determine their aptitude for college work—more than 80% colleges used it

·        ETS claimed it measured basic abilities over a students lifetime, but a study showed that special coaching could improve scores—which led to debates on if the test should measure scholastic aptitude and as a standard for college admission

B.     Revisions of the SAT

·        Became known as Scholastic Assessment Test in 1995

·        Verbal section with longer critical reading passages and math section that now can use calculators

C.     ACT Assessment Program (American College Testing Program)

·        Some authorities suggest that achievement tests would be a better way of predicting college success than SATs

·        This test measures student’s mastery of a particular subject area


III. School

A.     Trends in American Education

Progressives Versus Traditionalists

·        Progressives argue the goal of education is to prepare students for all phases of life

·        Traditionalists argue that education is to teach the basics—foreign language, history, math, etc-to increase student’s knowledge and intellectual powers

Goals of Progressive Education

·        Traditionalism was dominant until the 30s (Great Depression) but then the progressive idea that school should be a laboratory of life was promoted

·        Schools introduced vocational and personal service courses

After Sputnik

·        Our nation became obsessed with the failure of schools to keep up with technological advances of Soviet Union (launched Sputnik)

·        National Defense Education Act—nearly $1 bill to education

1960s and 1970s

·        Racial tensions, social unrest, and antiwar protest ensued and schools were called in to deal with the unrest

·        Educators demanded adolescents spend time in the community and the classroom—“hands on” experience

1980s and 1990s

·        National Commission on Excellence in Education set up

·        Found decline in SATs and achievement test scores while Europe and Japan’s children were doing well…Traditionalism began to be supported again with a more rigorous school day and standards

Middle Schools and Junior High

·        Size is a problem- those with large enrollments tend to be less personal, with less attention devoted to needs of students

·        An answer to size problem, is to take upper elementary schools and put them into middle schools and put eight and ninth graders in junior high

·        Separating younger and older students provides some advantages on the playground, school activities, and buses

·        As students move from smaller to larger schools, the adjustment can be difficult—which is why the few transitions may make it easier

·        Ninth graders in jr high tended to participate in more activities than those in sr. high school


Enrollment in High School

·        Prior to 1870 kids most kids preparing for college went to preparatory schools but that changed in 1874 with the Kalamazoo decision—then secondary education grew


Types of High School

·        Four types of secondary schools:  Catholic schools, public schools, elite private boarding schools and elite high performance private schools

·        The most ethnically diverse student body was at elite private schools

·        Private schools offered superior course programs in difficulty and had to work harder

·        Those families that can afford private education are more likely to get superior education there for their adolescents than if they sent the students to the average public school

Cultural Differences in Achievement

Children in East Asian countries perform better than their American counterparts—researchers studied differences btwn the two

·        Japanese and Chinese students spent an hour or two longer at school and spent more time studying subjects like math.

·        80% of American kids held part-time jobs while only 26% of Chinese students work at jobs outside of schools—American students also spent more time after schools socializing with friends

·        American kids spent much more time dating/working/socializing which interfered with school




Cross-Cultural Achievement and Psychological adjustments

·        Since American student academic achievement is clearly worse than those in China, Japan, Taiwan, etc—American parents and teachers argue that the difference is at a psychological cost on the East Asian students (reports portray them as nervous, depressed, overburdened)

·        Asian students reported higher levels of expectations from parents and lower levels of parental satisfaction with their academic achievement

·        Chinese and Japanese students reported being less stressed, anxious, etc

·        A reason for the greater stress felt by American students is due to all their competing activities outside of school –thus, they feel they must do well in school and in other areas such as sports, dating, etc.


Most dropouts occur after 17, with a greater percentage of Hispanics and blacks leaving school—currently the rate is decreasing

            Who drops out and Why

·        Lack of interest in school, misconduct, mental disability, health problems, financial problems, parental influences, relationships, racial and ethnic prejudice, socioeconomic factors

·        Usually problems accumulate and one incident sparks the actual circumstances for withdrawing—i.e., a misunderstanding with a teacher, home, difficulty with peers

Family Relationships

·        Quality of family relationships has a significant effect on school success

·        Successful students receive a great deal of social support and encouragement, have involved parents and are given incentives to do well—this can also provide a buffer for stressful and anxiety-producing experiences at school

·        Parents who provide firm guidance and set standards/limits have more responsible outside of the home too

Other reasons for dropping out:

·        Pregnancy and marriage are among the most common reasons for girls to drop out

·        Financial pressures at home, lure of being financially independent

·        Connection btwn truancy and delinquency which might lead to dropout

·        More likely to be immature, and less well adjusted—bored, anxious, inferior, negative, overprotective

·        Stress has effect on student’s adjustment to school—boys tend to act more aggressively towards it then girls

·        Low socioeconomic status correlates with early withdrawal—teachers may be prejudiced and they may receive less encouragement, may not possess the same verbal skills


·        If their friends are persuading them—that they can earn “big money” and drop out with them

·        If they don’t feel they fit in, they may withdraw—children who are accepted by their peers tend to be high achievers

·        Those from minority groups tend to drop out more- esp. from inner city

School Apathy, Dissatisfaction, and Failure

·        Low IQs, failing marks, misplacement, grade repetition, poor reading ability, etc—lost confidence in their ability to succeed in school

·        Transition to a new school; some anticipate failure before it begins and already feel like a failure before they enter a new school

·        Some may have no motivation or a lack of interest and can’t wait to get out


·        Programs can reduce the rate considerably—one way is to get them in other special programs, such as Job Corps.

Academic Success

            Factors that allow children to turn around from at risk students to success

·        Schools need to be small, and adults accessible, an atmosphere that promotes positive peer relationships, and need to provide youth with an authentic experience of personal success

Full Service Schools

·        One emerging program to help inner city kids and those growing up in poor rural areas has been to a full-service school

·        Full service schools integrate education, medical, social, and/or human services that are beneficial to children and youth and their families on school grounds or other easily accessible locations