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2.3: What does it mean to describe qualitative changes in development?

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  • In general, describing qualitative change involves depicting the age-graded organizations and re-organizations in the constituents of a phenomena, sometimes referred to as phases, stages, structures, or developmental tasks. The clearest descriptions of qualitative shifts can be found in Piagetian and neo-Piagetian accounts of development, which depict sequences of qualitatively different structural reorganizations of cognitive and affective processes (e.g., Case, 1985). In terms of academic motivation (and many phenomenon not as directly tied to cognitive developments), relatively less consensus exists about how to characterize the pattern of normative qualitative changes. Some examples can be found in work on the normative development of self-perceptions that seem to underlie children’s motivation and engagement, for example, self-perceptions of ability, which during early childhood are initially high and unrealistic, and subsequently come to be tied more directly to actual levels of performance (e.g., Stipek, Recchia, & McClintic, 1992), and children’s conceptions of effort and ability, which initially are fused, but, with the onset of formal operations, come to be differentiated and take on an inverse compensatory relationship, in which low performance under conditions of high effort implies low ability (e.g., Nicholls, 1978).