The development of representations as children learn about balancing

Pine, K. and Messer, D. (2003). The development of representations as children learn about balancing. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21(2) pp. 285–301.



The proposal that there is a simple dichotomy between implicit and explicit knowledge fails to fully explain why children and adults can perform a task with increasing awareness and efficiency before they are able to completely understand and explain their success. Karmiloff-Smith (1992) in her Representational Redescription (RR) model claims that representations of implicit procedures can be redescribed into further levels, E1, E2 and E3, which gradually afford increasing conscious and linguistic access. This study examines how 25 children's representations about balancing a beam on a fulcrum changed over time, as they attempted a set of tasks each day for five consecutive days. Children's behaviour was classified into seven levels, rather than the four identified by Karmiloff-Smith, and the path through these levels is traced as children progressed over the 5-day period. This provided one form of validation about the developmental sequence of the levels. Additional tasks assessed the flexibility of the children's representations, operationalized either as an ability to predict which beams would balance, or to identify which picture showed a beam that would balance on a fulcrum. The findings from these assessments shed light on the conscious accessibility and transportability of the children's knowledge, independent of their overt behaviour. The data also reveal a complexity in cognitive functioning which could not be identified from observations of performance alone. This research thus provides a theoretical endorsement and extension of Karmiloff-Smith's multi-representational framework of cognitive development and empirical support for a hypothesized path of development through the representational levels.

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