September 26, 2023

#3quotes from Bruner

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In my #3quotes series I have been citing directly from the texts of education thinkers, because it is important to apply ideas and theories in context. Too often, writers cite from theorists using secondary sources instead of delving into the original texts. In this post I will featuring direct quotations from legendary American psychologist Jerome S Bruner, whose work focused on the psychology of learning, pedagogical methods such as instructional scaffolding and the spiral curriculum, as well as social constructivist learning methods.

Bruner placed great emphasis on prior learning, cognitive mapping and the formation of schemas in learning. He argued that what is previously stored in long term memory can be used to pattern match new encounters in the world, whereby the observer constructs new meaning:

“Man constructs models of his world, not only templates that represent what he encounters and in what context, but also ones that permit him to go beyond them. He learns the world in a way that enables him to make predictions of what comes next by matching a few milliseconds of what is now experienced to a stored model and reading the rest from the model.” (1973, p 5)

Bruner also held the view that social contexts provided the context for learning. Along with his colleagues, Bruner introduced the notion of instructional scaffolding, and emphasised the social nature of most learning. He says of the child who is learning:

“Although from the earliest months of life, he is a natural problem solver in his own right, it is often the case that his efforts are assisted and fostered others who are more skilful than he is. Whether he is learning the procedures that constitute the skills of attending, communicating, manipulating objects, locomoting, or indeed, a more effective problem solving procedure itself, there are usually others in attendance who help him on his way.” (1976, p 89)

Developing his themes around the vital importance of the social contexts of learning, Bruner argues that just about all significant learning derives from the cultures we are immersed within, supported by language and other symbolic codes that we constantly encounter. In 1990, he published Acts of Meaning, in which he writes:

“It is culture, not biology, that shapes human life and the human mind, that gives meaning to action by situating its underlying intentional states in an interpretive system. It does this by imposing the patterns inherent in the culture’s symbolic systems – its language and discourse modes […] and the patterns of mutually dependent communal life.” (1990, p 34)

Bruner, J. S. (1973) The Relevance of Education. New York: Norton Company.
Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S. and Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 17(2), 89-100.
Bruner, J. S. (1990) Acts of Meaning. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

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#3quotes from Bruner by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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