J. Bruner

Heim Upp J. Bruner Lev Vygotsky Reuven Feuerstein



 Jerome Bruner (1915-). 


Jerome Bruner was born in U.S.A and his influence on teaching has been important.  He was possibly the leading proponent of discovery approach in mathematical education although he was not the inventor of the concept (Romiszowski.,A.J.,1997).

Bruner describes the general learning process in the following manner. First the child finds in his manipulation of the materials regularities that correspond with intuitive regularities it has already come to understand.  According to Bruner the child finds some sort of match between what it is doing in the outside world and some models or templates that it has already grasped intellectually.  For Bruner it is seldom something outside the learner that is discovered.  Instead, the discovery involves an internal reorganisation of previously known ideas in order to establish a better fit between those ideas and regularities of an encounter to which the learner has had to accommodate.

His approach was characterised by three stages which he calls enactive, iconic and symbolic and are solidly based on the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget.  The first, the enactive level, is where the child manipulate materials directly.  Then he proceed to the iconic level, where he deals with mental images of objects but does not manipulate them directly.  At last he moves to the symbolic level, where he is strictly manipulating symbols and no longer mental images or objects.  The optimum learning process should according to Bruner go through these stages.


1.   Enactive mode.  When dealing with the enactive mode, one is using some known aspects of reality without using words or imagination.  Therefore, it involves representing the past events through making motor responses.  It involves manly in knowing how to do something; it involves series of actions that are right for achieving some result e.g. Driving a car, skiing, tying a knot.


2.   Iconic Mode.  This mode deals with the internal imagery, were the knowledge is characterised by a set of images that stand for the concept.  The iconic representation depends on visual or other sensory association and is principally defined by perceptual organisation and techniques for economically transforming perceptions into meaning for the individual.


3. Symbolic mode.  Through life one is always adding to the resources to the symbolic mode of representation of thought.  This representation is based upon an abstract, discretionary and flexible thought.  It allows one to deal with what might be and what might not, and is a major tool in reflective thinking.  This mode is illustrative of a person’s competence to consider propositions rather than objects, to give ideas a hierarchical structure and to consider alternative possibilities in a combinatorial fashion, (Spencer.K.,1991, p.185-187).


The association of these ideas of manipulations of actual materials as a part of developmental model and the Socraterian notion of learning as internal reorganisation into a learning by discovery approach is the unique contribution of Bruner (Romiszowski.,A.J.1997, p.23).


In 1960, Bruner (then a professor of Harvard University) proposed a “spiral curriculum” concept to facilitate structuring a curriculum ´around the great issues, principles, and values that a society deems worthy of the continual concern of its members´  (Bruner, 1960). The next decades many school system educators attempted to implement this concept into their curriculum.  Bruner (1975) described the principles behind the spiral curriculum in the following way:


  ”…I was struck by the fact that successful efforts to teach highly structured bodies of knowledge like mathematics, physical sciences, and even the field of history often took the form of metaphoric spiral in which at some simple level a set of ideas or operations were introduced in a rather intuitive way and, once mastered in that spirit, were then revisited and reconstrued in a more formal or operational way, then being connected with other knowledge, the mastery at this stage then being carried one step higher to a new level of formal or operational rigour and to a broader level of abstraction and comprehensiveness.  The end stage of this process was eventual mastery of the connexity and structure of a large body of knowledge”…(p.3-4).


It was in the 1980s, that a body of literature had accumulated in support of individual components of a spiral curriculum model.  Reigeluth and Stein (1983) published the seminal work on “ The Elaboration Theory of Instruction”.  It proposes that when structuring a course, it should be organised in a simple-to-complex, general-to-detailed, abstract-to-concrete manner.  Another principle is that one should follow learning prerequisite sequence, it is applied to individual lessons within a course.  In order for a student to develop from simple to more complex lessons, certain prerequisite knowledge and skills must first be mastered.  This prerequisite sequencing provides linkages between each lesson as student spirals upwards in a course of a study.  As new knowledge and skills are introduced in a subsequent lessons, they reinforce what is already learnt and become related to previously learned information.  What the student gradually achieves is a rich breadth and depth of information that is not normally developed in curricula where each topic is discrete and disconnected from each other (Dowding, T.J. 1993).

Bruner suggested that cognitive process precede perception rather than the other way around, that a person may not perceive an object until he or she has recognised it.  These cognitive theories of perception emphasise the role of knowledge in how we interpret the world. 

Howard Gardner (1987,p.6) defined cognitive science as “a contemporary, empirically based effort to answer long-standing epistemological questions- particularly those concerned with the nature of knowledge, its components, its sources, its development, and its deployment. ”The theories of the constructivist are originated from this school of thought.

The beginning of the 1950s and maintaining through the 1990s, educators drew on rising insight of communications specialists, learning theories, and systems engineers.  The 1990s have been marked by the challenge of construcivism. 



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Sólrún B. Kristinsdóttir © 2001 Síðast uppfært 21.10.2008