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background knowledge and skills are unlikely to be successful at discovery, a
point that has been supported by later research on inductive learning (Kuhn,
Black, Keselman, & Kaplan, 2000). He also supported forms of discovery that
were scaffolded or guided by more expert learners, rather than completely
unstructured or open forms of discovery. Bruner’s supported or scaffolded form
of discovery called guided discovery.
Bruner and Curriculum Design 41 Bruner’s views on curriculum design or developing a “course of study”
were organized around two key ideas. First, he believed that the focus should be
on helping students understand the psychology of a subject matter. Second he
believed that curriculum should be spiraled.
The psychology of a subject matter. The psychology of a subject
matter includes both the key organizing principles or ideas of a discipline, and
the characteristic ways in which practitioners of that discipline solve problems
(Bruner, 1965). For example, when students study environmental science, they
would focus on understanding major concepts such as biological interdependence
rather than memorizing a large number of facts., because these important ideas
provide a structure for organizing subsequent knowledge.
Also, students need to engage in the research and inquiry methods of the
discipline. Bruner wanted students to acquire knowledge, but he also wanted them
to learn to think and problem solve. In the environmental science example,
therefore, students would learn ideas through the application of the scientific
method. In history, they were learn history through the research methods used by
One important implication of organizing a curriculum around the
psychology of a subject matter is that teachers would have to make decisions
about what to include in a course of study. This approach tends to replace breadth 42 of coverage with depth of coverage, an idea referred to as “less is more”
Spiral curriculum. A spiral curriculum involves periodically revisiting
key organizing ideas in a discipline throughout a curriculum (Bruner, 1960). Each
revisiting of an idea should be done at a higher level of complexity and
sophistication that is consistent with learners’ increasing prior knowledge and
representational abilities (Hardin & Stamper, 1999; Parry, 2000). For example,
the idea of biological interdependence could be introduced to young children
through their observations at local ponds. In later grades, interdependence would
be reintroduced a higher level of complexity. For example, students might study
the idea in terms of the impact of reduced numbers of predators on their prey.
Constructivism is somewhat difficult to define succinctly because it means
so many different things to different people. It has been referred to as an
epistemology or explanation of how knowledge is acquired (Simpson, 2001), a
theory of classroom learning (Bevevino, Dengel, & Adams, 1999), or a
worldview or an ideological position (Matthews, 2000). Also, constructiv...
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- Spring '08