As a psychologist, Jerome Bruner has led much of modern thought among those labeled interactionists, constructionists, and cognitivists. As a professor and researcher, Bruner has taught and researched for over sixty years at Harvard, Oxford, and at his current position at New York University. He has been looked at as one of the instrumental inciters of the so called cognitive revolution, and his ideas have had great influence over the current states of psychology, education, and language.
One frequently cited idea of Bruner’s is the LASS, or Language Acquisition Support System, a term coined in response to Chomsky’s LAD, or Language Acquisition Device. The LASS refers to the importance of a child’s social support network, which works in conjunction with innate mechanisms to encourage or suppress language development. Every child has one, and particularly during the years of the language explosion (roughly ages 2 to 5), differences in the LASS significantly explain differences in language acquisition, according to Bruner’s model.
Part of the LASS is another key component of Bruner’s explanation of how the most effective learning occurs – the “spiral curriculum.” Bruner used the spiral curriculum to argue against the modes of teaching that deem some subjects too difficult for learners to grasp before they’re ready, which was partially in response to Piaget’s strict stages of cogntive development. Many have come to accept Bruner’s view that learning is more successful with early exposure and subsequent scaffolding of more complex concepts that occurs over earlier developing ones.
So how does a spiral curriculum differ from a traditional one? Traditionally subjects are taught in big chunks to everyone at the same time. Spiral curriculums are broken up into smaller chunks which are revisited, moving from exposure to more in-depth understanding with each revisit. Optimally,this gives greater flexibility for learner’s individual differences, while providing the more opportunities for challenge, creativity, and advanced mastery of subjects.
And, it mimics how we naturally learn language. A child doesn’t learn his first words in one day sections devoted to each word. A “Today we’re going to learn the word, doggy.” day would not be as effective as how kids naturally learn the word doggy. Initial exposures are added to with repeated revisits, increasing a word’s understanding with each revisit. The most effective learning of subsequent words occurs in the same manner.
Bruner went on to write more on the significance of cultural influences in education. For more on Bruner and his work, click here or here. A good article on the spiral curriculum can be found here.