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Jerome Bruner
Discovery Learning in the 21st Century
Karen Wall 2/4/2011

Discovery Learning is a method of inquiry-based instruction, discovery learning believes that it is best for learners to discover facts and relationships for themselves. The major focus of Bruners theoretical framework is that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current or past knowledge. The theorist suggests that all human beings rely upon a cognitive structure that of schema or mental modes to select and transform information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions:

Mans use of mind is dependent upon his ability to develop and use tools or instruments or technologies that make it possible to express and amplify his powers. His very evolution as a species speaks to this point. It was consequent upon the development of bipedalism and the use of spontaneous pebble tools that mans brain and particularly his cortex developed. It was not a large-brained hominid that developed the technical-social life of the human; rather it was the tool-using, cooperative pattern that gradually changed mans morphology by favoring the survival of those who could link themselves with tool systems and disfavoring those who tried to do it on big jaws, heavy dentition, or superior weight. What evolved as a human nervous system was something, then, that required outside devices for expressing its potential.

(Bruner, Education as Social Invention,1966, p. 25.) The theorist further argues that this organization allows the learner to go beyond the information and place the information in categories for later use: What does it mean to translate experience into a model of the world Let me suggest there are probably three ways
in which human beings accomplish this feat. The first is through action. [] There is a second system of representation that depends upon visual or other sensory organization and upon the use of su mmarizing images. [] We have come to talk about the first form of representation as enactive, the second is iconic. [] Finally,there is a representation in words or language. Its hallmark is that it is symbolic in nature.

(Bruner, 1966, pp. 1011)

Howard Gardner describes Jerome Bruner as one of the most forward thinking educational thinkers of this era, he states
Jerome Bruner is not merely one of the foremost educational thinkers of the era; he is also an inspired learner and teacher. His infectious curiosity inspires all who are not completely jaded. Individuals of every age and background are invited to join in. Logical analyses, technical dissertations, rich and wide knowledge of diverse subject matters, asides to an ever wider orbit of information, intuitive leaps, pregnant enigmas pour forth from his indefatigable mouth and pen. In his words, 'Intellectual activity is anywhere and everywhere, whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third-grade classroom'. To those who know him, Bruner remains the Complete Educator in the flesh...

(Gardner 2001: 94) Brunner research spans over several decades starting in the 1960 to the present time. The theorist was born October 1st, 1915 in New York, the youngest of four children, he was later educated at Duke University where he received his B.A. in 1937 and Harvard, where he was awarded his PhD in 1947. The theorist who is leader in the area of cognitive development is the author of some twenty books, including Acts of Meaning (1990), The Culture of Education (1996) and The Process of Education (1960), which has been translated into twenty-one languages. As stated earlier the main construct of Bruner Discovery Learning theory focuses on Cognitive Development. He postulates that children engage in three stages of cognitive development: The Enactive Stage, The Ionic or visual stage and The Symbolic, Bruner postulated that it is through these three cognitive stages children develop understanding: In his essay Patterns of Growth, Bruner (1966) expands on these three modes of mental representation the sensor-motor or enactive stage, the iconic or visual stage and the symbolic or logical stage.

In the first stage the sensor motor stage, children go through this stage from birth to ages three and onward. During this stage learners view the world through actions they imitate and are initiate learners, at this stage learners benefit more from showing than telling and learn more readily through modeling. This mode focuses on young children representing past event through accurate motor response, for example opening a door, counting as they climb steps, a series of actions that are repetitive and acceptable for achieving results.

The second stage the iconic mode, spans from ages three to age eight. This mode deals with the internal imagery, it is at this stage that knowledge is characterised by a set of images that stand for the concept, learner at this age should be able to follow instruction to carry out a simple to complex tasks. 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. It is at this stage that visual memory increases and decisions are made on the basis of perceptions.

In the third stage the symbolic mode, which spans from ages eight onward, learners enter into the third mode of representation; at this stage, representation for the leaner is based upon abstract, discretionary and flexible thought. It is at this stage; the learner should be able to engage in reflective thinking and be able illustrates abstract terms. At this stage learners can better understand mathematical principles and engage in the use of symbolic idioms.

However Bruner postulates that each mode should not be categorized in separation or be dealt with as a single level of cognitive operation, instead he argues, each mode grows within the individual and as each mode of representation comes on stream sequentially earlier modes continue to develop.

With regards to the use of Discovery Learning in the classroom, they are several ways teachers incorporate the methods into their teaching. Once such means is the Socratic Method, this is a style of instruction where the instructor seeks to encourage the students to discover principles on their own. The instructor and students engage in active dialog, the teacher seeks to elicit information from the learner via a process of questioning, guiding the learning but tapping into the learners prior knowledge. It is via this process that the instructor seeks to translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner current state of understanding.

Bruner argues that methods of instructions should focus on four key areas , first the learners predisposition towards learning, the means by which the body of knowledge can be structured so it may be immediately grasped by the learner, the most effective sequence in which material materials must be presented and finally the nature and distribution of rewards and punishment.

With regards to activities Brunner suggest that students learn through active engagement with their environment, games, role play, simulation, experimentation in Science, data interpretation as part of Social Studies and interviewing as part of Language Arts based activities. He argues:
To instruct someone... is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting. Knowing is a process not a product. (1966: 72)

With regards to Discovery Learning the process of assessment is a mixture of formative and summative assessment. In discovery learning the assessment of the students is three folds. Assessment is based not only on tests, but also on observation of the student, the students work, and the students points of view. Students may be encouraged to keep logs or diaries summarizing their learning process. Oral Discussion, where the teacher presents the students with a focus topic which is then discussed by the class; other tools for assessing if learning has taken place in the process of Discovery Learning are Graphic Organizers; Mind Mapping; Hands- On Activities and Pre- Testing where the teacher determines what knowledge students bring to a new topic and how helpful that knowledge will be in directing the course of study.

In conclusion, Jerome Bruner has revolutionized how educators explore education and the delivery of that education in the 21st century. He has opened a window of learning for students who would have had difficulty functioning in the regular classroom but moreover he has opened the doors for students to become actively engaged in the process of their education.

Bruner, J. S. (1966) Toward a Theory of Instruction, Cambridge, Mass.: Belkapp Press. Bruner, J. S. (1971) The Relevance of Education, New York: Norton. Bruner, J. (1996) The Culture of Education, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Gardner, H. (2001) 'Jerome S. Bruner' in J. A. Palmer (ed.) Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education. From Piaget to the present, London: Routledge.