Jerome Bruner

(b. 1915)

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(b. 1915)

An American psychologist who continues to exert an influence on education and the development of curriculum theory. In his work on cognitive psychology, Bruner's interest in the cognitive development of children and how they represent ideas has drawn him to consider the cultural, environmental, and experiential factors influencing the process of education, as set out in his work The Process of Education (1960). In the early 1970s Bruner continued his research at Oxford University into the question of infant agency and began a series of explorations into children's language, establishing the concept of LADs (language acquisition devices) and LASSes (language acquisition support systems), which help to explain the nature of cultural–linguistic development. The emphasis on talk as a ‘scaffold’ to successful learning was influenced by Vygotsky and demonstrates ‘how learning shapes the mind … [providing] us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our worlds but our very conception of ourselves and our powers’ (Bruner 1996).

Bruner sees learning as an active process in which learners construct new understanding based on past knowledge. These accommodated schemas reflect the cognitive theories of Piaget but are expanded to encompass the social and cultural aspects of learning. Bruner has more recently worked with the pedagogistas in Reggio Emilia, where children are recognized as competent learners who actively contribute to the emerging curriculum through the encouragement of dialogue, narrative, problem‐solving, and documentation—all devices to support the development of the ways in which children and adults make internal sense of the world as a shared construction.

In The Process of Education, Bruner presents four key themes: the role of structure in learning and how it may be made central in teaching; readiness for learning and the spiral curriculum; intuitive and analytical thinking (through shared and sustained dialogue); and motives for learning. These themes have been explored further by Donald Schön (1930–97) and Howard Gardner (b. 1943), who have looked at ways in which teachers and schools might create ideal conditions for learners to be able to use their individual learning style and type of intelligence to create meaning.

Bruner's cognitive approach to his work in the early years phase of childhood has made him a key figure in educational theory in the United States and United Kingdom. His three modes of instruction—enactive, iconic, and symbolic—have been interpreted and developed most recently into visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic (VAK) teaching methods, and have informed Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

Further Reading:

J. Bruner Towards a Theory of Instruction (Belknap Press, 1966);The Relevance of Education (Norton, 1971);Child's Talk: Learning to Use Language (Norton, 1983);Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Harvard University Press, 1986);Acts of Meaning (Harvard University Press, 1990);The Culture of Education (Harvard University Press, 1996).

A. W.

Annie Woods

Subjects: Education.

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