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Find out who Jerome Bruner is, and his role in identifying theories of scaffolding and constructivism.

Read the lesson, then take a brief quiz to test your new knowledge about education theories.

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Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner was a psychologist noted for his contributions in the field of educational psychology. Born in 1915, Bruner held psychology chairs at Harvard University and at the University of Cambridge. Bruner was influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky, who shared Bruner’s belief that a child’s social environment and social interactions are key elements of the learning process.

Bruner died in 2016.

Scaffolding Theory

Bruner’s studies on learning led to his research and ultimate development of the famous scaffolding theory in education, which identifies the importance of providing students with enough support in the initial stages of learning a new subject.A ‘scaffold’ ensures that children aren’t left to their own devices to understand something. The support, or scaffold, is removed when the student is ready, like the scaffolding that supports workers who’ve been constructing or repairing a building, which is removed when the construction is complete.For instance, if a student is learning a new concept in an algebra class, he or she might observe it being done step-by-step by a more advanced peer in a small group or by a teacher.

This support is the ‘scaffold’ he needs temporarily. Each step is demonstrated and explained, and then the student tries it on his or her own, without the scaffold.

Constructivism

Bruner’s theory of constructivism holds that students should be active in the learning process. Such experiential learning allows learners to better process their newfound knowledge and skills. Constructivism is also based on the idea that students construct their learning on past knowledge, and that reasoning plays an important role in the learning process.

Approaches to constructivist teaching vary, but Bruner’s idea of a constructivist approach is called the spiral curriculum, which involves students building on their existing knowledge. The ‘spiral’ is a process that begins with presenting students with a foundation of various topics early on and then touching on these subjects more deeply throughout a student’s school years.For instance, students learning math in a spiral curriculum might study division and fractions one year.

The following year, they will continue working with division and fractions, but the instruction might also incorporate decimals and percentages. The next year all of these topics are covered again with the addition of related mathematical concepts, such as proportions and ratios. In this way, students are able to continue building their knowledge base while maintaining a thorough understanding of the fundamentals.

Lesson Summary

Psychologist Jerome Bruner is noted for his contributions in the field of educational psychology. His research has led to fundamental theories in education, including scaffolding and constructivism. Scaffolding theory identifies the importance of providing students with enough support in the initial stages of learning a new subject. The idea that students should be active in the learning process is known as constructivism. Bruner’s idea of a constructivist approach is called the spiral curriculum.

This involves moving to higher levels of instruction by allowing students to build on their existing knowledge base.

Key Terms

  • Jerome Bruner: psychologist noted for his contributions in the field of educational psychology
  • Lev Vygotsky: person who shared Bruner’s belief that a child’s social environment and social interactions are key elements of the learning process
  • Scaffolding theory: theory that identifies the importance of providing students with enough support in the initial stages of learning a new subject
  • Constructivism: the idea that students should be active in the learning process
  • Spiral curriculum: idea that involves moving to higher levels of instruction by allowing students to build on their existing knowledge base
Spiral curriculum builds upon the existing knowledge base of the learner.
Bruner, spiral curriculum

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to

  • Identify Jerome Bruner and Lev Vygotsky
  • Define scaffolding theory
  • Explain how constructivism relates to the spiral curriculum concept

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