Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Scaffolds and spirals

If you're a psychologist, an educational researcher, or a teacher, you have almost certainly quoted him at some point in your career. If not, he has definitely influenced your practice in some way. He was more than a giant, he was a colossus of the world of education and psychology. His name was Jerome Seymour Bruner, and he died yesterday at the age of 100 after an illustrious and highly influential career.

Bruner was one of the founding fathers of the theory of social constructivism, an approach that pervades many of the daily activities in schools across the world.

Bruner will perhaps be best remembered for two important contributions to our understanding of learning. His first contribution was an extension of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development theory. Along with his colleagues, Bruner proposed the idea of instructional scaffolding, where experts provide a support framework for novice learners, which can gradually be faded as the learner becomes more competent and knowledgeable. This simple idea was the basis of many programmes of study, across all sectors of education. It engages the learner is increasingly more complex forms of learning, whilst incorporating collaboration, problem solving and task modelling (Wood et al, 1976).

Bruner's second significant contribution to education was the spiral curriculum. This involved content being structured so that anything can be taught at simplistic levels to begin with, with a gradual progression to more complex versions, which continually build upon, and revisit, earlier versions. In this approach to education, the teacher avoids the role of direct instructor and instead, adopts the role of facilitator of learning.

Bruner made many other important contributions too numerous to mention in a short blog, but it's safe to say that he has greatly influenced the way we conduct education today. We have a lot to thank him for, and he leaves a wonderful legacy for educators everywhere.

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

Photo by Tony Hisgett on Wikimedia Commons

This post first appeared on Learning with 'e's on June 7, 2016

Creative Commons License
Scaffolds and spirals by Steve Wheeler was written in Liberec, Czech Republic and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.