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Cognitive Science 380: Preschool Cognitive Development

CGSC 380:  Special Topics in Developmental
Winter 2011

Kathleen M. Galotti
Olin 106/108; x4376; e-mail: kgalotti


           The seminar topic for this year is cognitive development during the preschool years. We will examine a number of realms in which preschoolers are described as undergoing cognitive change, among them:  perception, attention, memory, categorization, and reasoning.  We will also review children’s emerging “theories of mind.”  We will anchor our reading of current literature in two theories--those of Piaget and Vygotsky. 

            We will also ground our discussions in observational experiences--these derived from weekly observations you will make at the Northfield Day Care Center.  You will be introduced to observation procedures the first week of class.  Each student will be assigned to a weekly observation period (60 minutes), during which observation and interaction with children will take place. 

            I have several goals for this course.  One is to have you develop the skills necessary to read and critique articles in the primary literature.  As you will see, several of the readings for the course are journal articles or book chapters, designed for an audience of developmental psychologists.  I hope by course’s end you feel comfortable in the literature, and are able to evaluate the arguments and the empirical designs used by developmental psychologists.  A second goal is for us to have lively discussions.  This goal demands that all of us come to class (regularly!), having both completed the reading and having thought about the reading. Finally, I hope through the observations you will do that you will have the chance to apply theory to real-world occurrences.

            Course requirements are designed to implement the course goals.  First is weekly attendance at your observation sessions.  I’ll ask you each class to report on your observations.  A second course requirement is a final paper.   More details on this later, but it may take the form of either:  1) a literature review on some topic relevant to the course; 2) a research proposal for a study you would conduct if you had the time and other resources; 3) an empirical report of an observational study you design and carry out.  The paper is worth 40% of your final grade.

             Each seminar participant will also be responsible for leading some number of discussions (either singly, or in teams of two or three—we’ll discuss this on the first days of class).  Each team or presenter will be responsible for doing background reading and leading discussion on the assigned topic.    For each presentation, the presenter or team will prepare a written outline of their plan for the class period, bibliography of other sources consulted (besides the class readings), and a paragraph or two of written thoughts/reflections/reactions.  Presentation outlines will count 20% of the course grade.  The actual presentations themselves will count for a total of 30%.  These will be evaluated on the presenter or team’s preparation, organization, ability to confine the discussion to the time allotted and general quality of the presentation. 

            There are no midterm or final examinations in this seminar.  To recap, final grades will be given according to the following weights:  Final papers, 40%, Class presentation outline(s) 20% (total), Class presentation(s), 30% (total).  The final 10% of your grade will be based on overall class and observation attendance and participation. 

            A seminar depends vitally on the commitment, effort, and enthusiasm of all the participants.  In addition, seminar meetings are only as lively and interesting as all members make them.  In general, lack of preparation makes for a long meeting. Discussions that wander off into personal anecdote, or otherwise make only passing reference to the articles, are a waste of everyone’s time.  Conversely, a discussion where everyone is prepared to discuss can be quite invigorating.  Let’s all aim for the latter!   I expect each seminar member to attend regularly, (absences only in extreme circumstances), to participate actively in discussions, and to complete reading assignments prior to the discussion.    Finally, I assume each of you will have read and become familiar with the booklet "Academic Honesty in the Writing of College Papers," available from the Associate Dean of the College.

            For the first time since I’ve been at Carleton, this seminar has a textbook—it’s one I wrote, based on my previous experiences teaching this and other cognitive developmental seminars.  You will be the first class I’m using it with, and I look forward to your feedback!  The book is entitled, Cognitive Development:  Infancy Through Adolescence, and I can honestly say it was written with you (ok, not specifically YOU, but you, the able Carleton student), in mind!  On the pages that follow, the book is referred to by the acronym, CDITA.

            I'm excited about the seminar, and hope you will be, too.  Office hours will be announced shortly, and I invite you to make use of them to discuss course material, or other topics of mutual interest.

Date            Topic and Assignments

Tue 1/4         Overview and organizational issues

                        Film:  Childhood:  In the Land of the Giants

Thu 1/6            Observing children

                        Meeting with Sarah Kaul, Director, Northfield Day Care Center

                        Read: CDITA, Ch. 1, Ch. 2 (start)

Mon 1/10           Observations begin

Tue 1/11            Pretense and play in cognitive development.

                        Read:   Fein, 1981

Thu 1/13            A day off!!! (Think of it as minimal “comp time” for your observations!)

Tue 1/18            A review of Piagetian  and Vygotskian theory

                        Read CDITA, ch. 2 (finish)

Thu 1/20            A day off!  (Think of it as minimal “comp time” for your observations!)

                        Get started on reading for next Tuesday

Tue 1/25            Other descriptions of preschool cognition

                        Read:   R. Gelman (1979); Bjorklund & Green (1992) J. Flavell (1992)

Thu 1/27            Perceptual processes in preschoolers

                        Read:   CDITA, ch. 6 (up through p. 177)

Tue 2/1            Attention in preschoolers

                        CDITA, ch. 6 (finish)

Thu 2/3            Memorial development I.   

Read:  CDITA, ch. 7 (up through p. 223)

Tue 2/8            Memorial development II. 

                        Read Principe, Kanaya, Ceci, & Singh (2006);

Kulkofsky & Klemfuss (2008)

Thu 2/10            Conceptual development

                        Read:  CDITA, ch. 7 (finish)

Tue 2/15            Reasoning and thinking processes

                        Read:  CDITA, ch. 8 (up through p. 256)           

Thu 2/17            Planning and goal setting in preschoolers

                        Read: Byrd, van der Veen, McNamara, & Berg, (2004)

 Attance & Meltzoff (2006)

Tue 2/22            Egocentrism and the appearance/reality distinction

                        Read: Rice, Koinis, Sullivan, Tager-Flusberg, &  Winner (1997);

                        Deak (2006)           

Thu 2/24            Preschoolers’ theories of mind

                        Read: CDITA, ch. 8  (finish)

Tue 3/1            More on theory of mind

                        Read: Gottfried & Jow (2003); Davis-Unger & Carlson (2008)

Thu 3/3            Early literacy

                        Read:  CDITA ch. 11 (pp. 355-265); Cunningham (2010)

Fri 3/4              Observations end

Tue 3/8            Early numeracy

                        Read:  CDITA ch. 11 (pp. 365-369

                        Hojnoski, Silberglitt, & Floyd (2009).

Final papers due end of finals period March 14, 2010


Atance, C. M., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2006) Preschoolers’ current desires warp their choices for the future. Psychological Science, 17, 583-587

Bjorklund, D. F. & Green, B. L.  (1992).  The adaptive nature of cognitive immaturity.  American Psychologist, 47, 46-54.

Byrd, D. L., van der Veen, T. K., McNamara, J. P. H., & Berg, W. K.  (2004).  Preschoolers don’t practice what they preach:  Preschoolers’ planning performances with manual and spoken response requirements.  Journal of Cognition and Development, 5, 427-449.

Cunningham, D. D.  (2010).  Relating preschool quality to children’s literacy development.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 37, 501-507

Davis-Unger, A. C., & Carlson, S. M.  (2008).  Development of teaching skills and relations to Theory of Mind in preschoolers.  Journal of Cognition and Development, 9, 26-45.

Deak, G. O., (2006).  Do children really confuse appearance and reality?  Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 546-550.

Fein, G. G.  (1981).  Pretend play in childhood:  An integrative review.  Child Development, 52, 1095-1118.

Flavell, J. H.  (1992).  Cognitive development:  Past, present, and future.  Developmental Psychology, 28, 998-1005.

Gelman, R.  (1979).  Preschool thought.  American Psychologist, 34, 900-905.

Gottfried, G. M., & Jow, E. E.  (2003).  “I just talk with my heart”:  the mind-body problem, linguistic input, and the acquisition of folk psychological beliefs.  Cognitive Development, 18, 79-90.

Hojnoski, R. L., Silberglitt, B., & Floyd, R. G.  (2009).  Sensitivity to growth over time of the preschool numeracy indicators with a sample of preschoolers in Head Start.  School Psychology Review, 38, 402-418. 

Kulkofsky, S., & Klemfuss, J. Z. (2008).  What the stories children tell can tell about their memory:  Narrative skill and young children’s suggestibility.  Developmental Psychology, 44, 1442-1456.

Principe, G. F.,  Kanaya, T., & Ceci, S. J. , & Singh, M.   (2006). Believeing is seeing: How rumors can engender false memories in preschoolers. Psychological Science, 17, 243-248

Rice, C., Koinis, D., Sullivan, K., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Winner, E.  (1997).  When 3-year-olds pass the appearance-reality test.  Developmental Psychology, 33, 54-62.