A Comparison of Conservation Training Procedures and a Proposed Criterion for Diagnosing the Presence of Conservation of Weight

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sixty first and second grade students were administered Piagetian conservation of weight tasks utilizing materials from the Goldschmid-Bentler Concept Assessment Kit. Ten natural conservers , and fifty nonconservers and partial conservers were identified . The nonconservers and partial conservers were assigned to a no-training control group or one of four training groups where the training procedures were based on invariant quantity principles, reversibility principles, compensation principles, or direct verbal reinforcement. The natural conservers constituted a second control group which did not participate in the training phase of the study . Following training, all subjects were administered a conservation of weight posttest, as well as a conservation of continuous quantity transfer task .

One focus of the study was to determine whether conservation concepts could be induced in children previously classified as nonconservers or partial conservers. In addition, direct comparisons were made among the different training methods to determine whether one of the procedures might be superior to the others, or whether they are equally effective as training methods. Results indicated that conservation training was highly successful for the groups which received training in invariant quantity and reversibility principles. These two groups of subjects differed significantly from a group of no-training controls on posttest conservation of weight scores. In addition, they were statistically comparable to a group of natural conservers on posttest measures. Training procedures based on compensation principles and direct verbal reinforcement were found to be considerably less effective.

Transfer of training was also found for those subjects in the invariant quantity and reversibility training groups. These groups were statistically comparable to a group of natural conservers on a conservation of continuous quantity transfer task . This was not true of the compensation training group or the direct verbal reinforcement group. Sex comparisons revealed no differences between male and female subjects in any phase of the study.

A second focus of the study was based on Piaget's notion that the ability to conserve depends upon a total system of operations involving reversibility, compensation, and identity. When a conserving child is asked to justify a conservation judgment, he generally refers to an argument based upon one of the three operations. He may only verbalize one or two of the arguments, but if he is a conserver, he is capable of understanding and performing all of the operations. It was therefore reasoned that a natural conserver should be able to recognize that an explanation based on any one of the three operations is a valid explanation for conservation. Furthermore, it was felt that if trained conservers had, in fact, acquired a genuine concept of conservation, they should be no different from the natural conservers in their ability to see that the three justifications for conservation are equally valid.

Results of the study revealed that natural conservers were 100 percent accurate in their agreement that the three explanations for conservation are correct. The group of trained conservers was statistically comparable to the group of natural conservers, suggesting that both groups had acquired a concept of conservation based upon an underlying system of operations. Subjects not classified as conservers on the posttest appeared confused and indecisive when presented with the additional correct justifications .

It was proposed that the procedure utilized in the supplementary posttest of the study may constitute a new diagnostic procedure for determining the presence of conservation . This method appears to reveal the presence of the three operations which Piaget believes underlie conservation .

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