Category Archives: The Art of Teaching

Bruner and the origins of the “Constructivist” approach

Jerome Bruner (1915-2016)

The Importance of Language

Language is important for the increased ability to deal with abstract concepts. Bruner argues that language can code stimuli and free an individual from the constraints of dealing only with appearances, to provide a more complex yet flexible cognition.

The use of words can aid the development of the concepts they represent and can remove the constraints of the “here & now” concept. Basically, he sees the infant as an intelligent & active problem solver from birth, with intellectual abilities basically similar to those of the mature adult.

Educational Implications

For Bruner (1961), the purpose of education is not to impart knowledge, but instead to facilitate a child’s thinking and problem solving skills which can then be transferred to a range of situations. Specifically, education should also develop symbolic thinking in children.

In 1960 Bruner’s text, The Process of Education was published. The main premise of Bruner’s text was that students are active learners who construct their own knowledge.

Bruner (1960) opposed Piaget’s notion of readiness. He argued that schools waste time trying to match the complexity of subject material to a child’s cognitive stage of development. This means students are held back by teachers as certain topics are deemed too difficult to understand and must be taught when the teacher believes the child has reached the appropriate state of cognitive maturity.

Bruner (1960) adopts a different view and believes a child (of any age) is capable of understanding complex information: ‘We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development’. (p. 33)

Bruner (1960) explained how this was possible through the concept of the spiral curriculum. This involved information being structured so that complex ideas can be taught at a simplified level first, and then re-visited at more complex levels later on. Therefore, subjects would be taught at levels of gradually increasing difficultly (hence the spiral analogy). Ideally, teaching his way should lead to children being able to solve problems by themselves.

Bruner (1961) proposes that learners’ construct their own knowledge and do this by organizing and categorizing information using a coding system. Bruner believed that the most effective way to develop a coding system is to discover it rather than being told it by the teacher. The concept of discovery learningimplies that students construct their own knowledge for themselves (also known as a constructivist approach).

The role of the teacher should not be to teach information by rote learning, but instead to facilitate the learning process. This means that a good teacher will design lessons that help student discover the relationship between bits of information. To do this a teacher must give students the information they need, but without organizing for them. The use of the spiral curriculum can aid the process of discovery learning.

Bruner and Vygotsky

Both Bruner and Vygotsky emphasise a child’s environment, especially the social environment, more than Piaget did. Both agree that adults should play an active role in assisting the child’s learning.

Bruner, like Vygotsky, emphasized the social nature of learning, citing that other people should help a child develop skills through the process of scaffolding. The term scaffolding first appeared in the literature when Wood, Bruner and Ross described how tutors’ interacted with preschooler to help them solve a block reconstruction problem (Wood et al., 1976).

The concept of scaffolding is very similar to Vygotsky’s notion of the zone of proximal development, and it’s not uncommon for the terms to be used interchangeably. Scaffolding involves helpful, structured interaction between an adult and a child with the aim of helping the child achieve a specific goal.

‘[Scaffolding] refers to the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some task so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill she is in the process of acquiring’ (Bruner, 1978, p. 19).

Bruner and Piaget

Obviously there are similarities between Piaget and Bruner, but an important difference is that Bruner’s modes are not related in terms of which presuppose the one that precedes it. While sometimes one mode may dominate in usage, they coexist.

Bruner states that what determines the level of intellectual development is the extent to which the child has been given appropriate instruction together with practice or experience. So – the right way of presentation and the right explanation will enable a child to grasp a concept usually only understood by an adult. His theory stresses the role of education and the adult.

Although Bruner proposes stages of cognitive development, he doesn’t see them as representing different separate modes of thought at different points of development (like Piaget). Instead, he sees a gradual development of cognitive skills and techniques into more integrated “adult” cognitive techniques.

Bruner views symbolic representation as crucial for cognitive development and since language is our primary means of symbolizing the world, he attaches great importance to language in determining cognitive development.

BRUNER AGREES WITH PIAGET BRUNER DISAGREES WITH PIAGET
1. Children are PRE-ADAPTED to learning 1. Development is a CONTINUOUS PROCESS – not a series of stages
2. Children have a NATURAL CURIOSITY 2. The development of LANGUAGE is a cause not a consequence of cognitive development
3. Children’s COGNITIVE STRUCTURES develop over time 3. You can SPEED-UP cognitive development. You don’t have to wait for the child to be ready
4. Children are ACTIVE participants in the learning process 4. The involvement of ADULTS and MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE PEERS makes a big difference
5. Cognitive development entails the acquisition of SYMBOLS 5. Symbolic thought does NOT REPLACE EARLIER MODES OF REPRESENTATION
 
For additional reading on Bruner go here.

References

Bruner, J. S. (1957). Going beyond the information given. New York: Norton.

Bruner, J. S. (1960). The Process of education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction, Cambridge, Mass.: Belkapp Press.

Bruner, J. S. (1973). The relevance of education. New York: Norton.

Bruner, J. S. (1978). The role of dialogue in language acquisition. In A. Sinclair, R., J. Jarvelle, and W. J.M. Levelt (eds.) The Child’s Concept of Language. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 17(2), 89-100.


How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Bruner. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bruner.html

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Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) has been by defined by Vygotsky as:

“The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Lev Vygotsky views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within the zone of proximal development.

Two studies:

(a) Wood and Middleton (1975) – Scaffolding and the ZPD

The following study provides empirical support the both the concept of scaffolding and the ZPD.

Procedure: 4 year old children had to use a set of blocks and pegs to build a 3D model shown in a picture. Building the model was too difficult a task for a 4 year old child to complete alone.

Wood and Middleton (1975) observed how mothers interacted with their children to build the 3D model. The type of support included:

  • General encouragement e.g. ‘now you have a go.’
  • Specific instructions e.g. ‘get four big blocks.’
  • Direct demonstration e.g. showing the child how to place one block on another.

The results of the study showed that no single strategy was best for helping the child to progress. Mothers whose assistance was most effective were those who varied their strategy according to how the child was doing. When the child was doing well, they became less specific in their help. When the child started to struggle, they gave increasingly specific instructions until the child started to make progress again.

The study illustrates scaffolding, and Vygotsky’s concept of the ZPD. Scaffolding (i.e. assistance) is most effective when the support is matched to the needs of the learner. This puts them in a position to achieve success in an activity that they would previously not have been able to do alone.

Wood et al. (1976) named certain processes that aid effective scaffolding:

  • Gaining and maintaining the learner’s interest in the task.
  • Making the task simple.
  • Emphasizing certain aspects that will help with the solution.
  • Control the child’s level of frustration.
  • Demonstrate the task.

(b) Freund (1990) – Dolls House Study

Freund (1990) wanted to investigate if children learn more effectively via Piaget’s concept of discovery learning or by guided learning via the ZPD.

She asked a group of children between the ages of three and five years to help a puppet to decide which furniture should be placed in the various rooms of a dolls house. First Freund assessed what each child already understood about the placement of furniture (as a baseline measure).

Next, each child worked on a similar task, either alone (re: discovery based learning) or with their mother (re: scaffolding / guided learning). To assess what each child had learned they were each given a more complex, furniture sorting task.

The results of the study showed that children assisted by their mother performed better at the furniture sorting than the children who worked independently.

Educational Applications

‘From a Vygotskian perspective, the teacher’s role is mediating the child’s learning activity as they share knowledge through social interaction’ (Dixon-Krauss, 1996, p. 18). Scaffolding is a key feature of effective teaching and can include modeling a skill, providing hints or cues, and adapting material or activity (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).

In the classroom scaffolding can can be performed with just about any task. Consider these guidelines for scaffolding instruction (Silver, 2011)

  • Assess the learner’s current knowledge and experience for the academic content.
  • Relate content to what students already understand or can do.
  • Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback.
  • Use verbal cues and prompts to assist students.

A contemporary application of Vygotsky’s theories is “reciprocal teaching”, used to improve students’ ability to learn from text. In this method, teacher and students collaborate in learning and practicing four key skills: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher’s role in the process is reduced over time.

Vygotsky’s theories also feed into current interest in collaborative learning, suggesting that group members should have different levels of ability so more advanced peers can help less advanced members operate within their zone of proximal development. 

For more on scaffolding and the ZPD go here. 

References

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Dixon-Krauss, L. (1996). Vygotsky in the classroom. Mediated literacy instruction and assessment. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Freund, L. S. (1990). Maternal Regulation of Children’s Problem-solving Behavior and Its Impact on Children’s Performance. Child Development, 61, 113-126.

Silver, D. (2011). Using the ‘Zone’Help Reach Every Learner. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47(sup1), 28-31.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving.Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.

Wood, D., & Middleton, D. (1975). A study of assisted problem-solving. British Journal of Psychology, 66(2), 181−191.


How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2012). Zone of Proximal Development. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html

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Jean Piaget and Biological Stages of Development

piaget-adaptation cycle

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Piaget’s Stages of Development

Piaget believed that children go through 4 universal stages of cognitive development. A child’s cognitive development is about a child constructing a mental model of the world.

Development is biologically based and changes as the child matures.

Each child goes through the stages in the same order, and no stage can be missed out – although some individuals may never attain the later stages. There are individual differences in the rate at which children progress through stages.

Piaget did not claim that a particular stage was reached at a certain age – although descriptions of the stages often include an indication of the age at which the average child would reach each stage.

Sensorimotor Stage (Birth-2 yrs)

The main achievement during this stage is object permanence – knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden.

It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object.

Preoperational Stage (2-7 years)

During this stage, young children are able to think about things symbolically. This is the ability to make one thing – a word or an object – stand for something other than itself.

Thinking is still egocentric, and the infant has difficulty taking the viewpoint of others.

Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)

Piaget considered the concrete stage a major turning point in the child’s cognitive development, because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought.

This means the child can work things out internally in their head (rather than physically try things out in the real world).

Children can conserve number (age 6), mass (age 7), and weight (age 9). Conservation is the understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes

Formal Operational Stage (11 years and over)

The formal operational stage begins at approximately age eleven and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts, and logically test hypotheses.

Educational Implications

Piaget (1952) did not explicitly relate his theory to education, although later researchers have explained how features of Piaget’s theory can be applied to teaching and learning.

Piaget has been extremely influential in developing educational policy and teaching practice. For example, a review of primary education by the UK government in 1966 was based strongly on Piaget’s theory. The result of this review led to the publication of the Plowden report (1967).

Discovery learning – the idea that children learn best through doing and actively exploring – was seen as central to the transformation of the primary school curriculum.

‘The report’s recurring themes are individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, the centrality of play in children’s learning, the use of the environment, learning by discovery and the importance of the evaluation of children’s progress – teachers should ‘not assume that only what is measurable is valuable.’

Because Piaget’s theory is based upon biological maturation and stages, the notion of ‘readiness’ is important. Readiness concerns when certain information or concepts should be taught. According to Piaget’s theory children should not be taught certain concepts until they have reached the appropriate stage of cognitive development.

According to Piaget (1958), assimilation and accommodation require an active learner, not a passive one, because problem-solving skills cannot be taught, they must be discovered.

Within the classroom learning should be student centered a accomplished through active discovery learning. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning, rather than direct tuition. Therefore, teachers should encourage the following within the classroom:

  • Focus on the process of learning, rather than the end product of it.
  • Using active methods that require rediscovering or reconstructing “truths”.
  • Using collaborative, as well as individual activities (so children can learn from each other).
  • Devising situations that present useful problems, and create disequilibrium in the child.
  • Evaluate the level of the child’s development, so suitable tasks can be set.

For additional reading, graphics, and a video go to Simply Psychology.

References

Baillargeon, R., & DeVos, J. (1991). Object permanence in young infants: Further evidence. Child development, 1227-1246.

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belkapp Press.

Central Advisory Council for Education (1967). Children and their Primary Schools (‘The Plowden Report’), London: HMSO.

Dasen, P. (1994). Culture and cognitive development from a Piagetian perspective. In W .J. Lonner & R.S. Malpass (Eds.), Psychology and culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Hughes , M. (1975). Egocentrism in preschool children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Edinburgh University.

Keating, D. (1979). Adolescent thinking. In J. Adelson (Ed.), Handbook of adolescent psychology, pp. 211-246. New York: Wiley.

Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1936). Origins of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1945). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. London: Heinemann.

Piaget, J. (1957). Construction of reality in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence.AMC, 10, 12.

Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.

Siegler, R. S., DeLoache, J. S., & Eisenberg, N. (2003). How children develop. New York: Worth.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wadsworth, B. J. (2004). Piaget’s theory of cognitive and affective development: Foundations of constructivism. Longman Publishing.


How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2015). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

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