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How to Apply Bruner's Ideas in a Classroom

Updated April 17, 2017

Dr. Jerome Bruner, born in 1915, is an American psychologist whose work has become especially influential in the field of education. "The Process of Education," published in 1960, outlined a theoretical approach to education that has been widely adopted in schools and universities in America and the United Kingdom. In the book, Bruner describes children as active problem-solvers, ready to explore new subjects and ideas, and this idea has been embraced by many educational professionals across the country.

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  1. Promote readiness of learning, a central idea in Bruner's work that means shifting the focus away from external goals, such as grades, and motivating students through interest in a subject. Make the material visually and intellectually appealing to enhance learning.

  2. Introduce a spiral curriculum. According to Bruner, a curriculum should visit the basic ideas and concepts repeatedly as it develops. Students can use this information to slowly build up to more complex ideas and to make connections between concepts.

  3. Promote intuitive thinking, which involves encouraging students to make guesses based on incomplete evidence and then confirm or disprove the guesses systematically. When students confront a new word in a text, for example, avoid giving them the definition immediately. Instead, ask students to guess its meaning by looking at the words around it.

  4. Help students make connections between concepts. Ask questions such as "What else could you call this apple?" Answer: Fruit. "What do we do with fruit?" Answer: Eat. "What do we call things we eat?" Answer: Food. This encourages students to go beyond what is given and become active learners.

  5. Support discovery learning, which encourages teachers to tailor material and teaching methods to the cognitive development of a child. Children start out, for example, in the enactive stage, in which they learn through actions, such as tasting, touching and feeling. Children then enter the iconic stage, in which they can represent the world through images, where appearances and presentation dominate their learning. The final stage is symbolic, in which children use abstract ideas and symbols to understand new concepts. Supporting discovery learning means letting students move freely through these three stages when they encounter new information.

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About the Author

Kaye Jones has been a freelance writer since 2009, specializing in history, education and mental health. Her undergraduate dissertation was published by the Internet Journal of Criminology. Jones has a first-class honors Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Manchester.

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