Earlier this week I delivered to a small number of staff a voluntary CPD session on Bruner’s Learning Model as a strategy to support planning for our Inspire curriculum band. The Inspire cohort is made up of our disaffected pupils with behavioural issues. However, the Inspire band is still in its early days and most of the curriculum content on offer is what many of the pupils disliked and rejected in the first place. During a previous training session I said to staff that the Inspire cohort is an opportunity to test new teaching strategies and take risks to engage and improve the progress of our most hard to reach learners. As a teacher of the Inspire cohort, I walked the walk and took the opportunity to try new strategies that I could feedback and discuss with staff. The one strategy that appears to have made the biggest difference was Bruner’s Learning model.
Jerome Bruner believes that education is about discovery and making the learner independent. In his influential book The Process of Learning Bruner suggests three modes of learning to achieve this: Enactive/Concrete, Iconic/Pictorial and Symbolic/Abstract. Although he based his examples using early years, Bruner believes that the learning model can be applied at any age when new knowledge is being constructed. However, the teaching cannot ignore the pupil, instead the pupil most take an active role. Although Bruner worked with Piaget, his views are more aligned with Vygotsky and other constructivists. Constructivists argue that learning occurs through the interactions, experiences and reflection, not in isolation. Contary to some criticism, constructivism does not disregard the role of the teacher and their specialist knowledge irrelvant. Instead, constructivism considers the teacher as being vital in helping pupils construct knowledge rather than to produce a list of facts or figures.
Interestingly the success of Bruner’s Learning Model is also evident in Singapore. In the 1980s Singapore applied the model to deliver a new engaging and discovery based mathematics curriculum that since has accelerated Singapore to the top of the mathematics table for pupil performance. Commercially referred to as Singapore Maths, the success of the model shows promise if applied effectively to other subject areas.
I applied Bruner’s Learning Model with my Year 7 Inspire cohort on the topic of organs and tissues. The enactive stage is about stripping back all the detail so to focus soley on the core knowledge in an active way. For example, we were learning about organs, so I had them all stand up. I pointed to each organ in the body and stated the organ. The pupils repeated. We then played a game in which I call Knock Out. The rules are that I point to an organ and they have to say it (or vice-versa). Whoever says it last or wrong has to sit down. Whoever is the last standing wins. It’s a fun, interactive form of rote learning that helps pupils learn the key words.
The iconic stage consisted off the pupils cutting out organs and having to paste them correctly in an outline of a person. Many of them were referring to knockout to help them located the organs. Also, at this stage, we dissected a rat so that they could see real organs and successful locate them. During the dissection we began to discuss the function for each organ and how some organs work together is systems.
The final stage is symbolic and that is using language to demonstrate and expand on understanding. I had the pupils write a report on the dissection that included the organs, where they are located and their function in the body. This was followed up by spending a lesson correcting any misconceptions about organs and their functions. The result was promising with the majority of my pupils making better than expected progress, in particular three pupils with targets of 3A achieving two level 5s and one level 6.
The positives were that the pupils made exceptional progress, engagement and there were no behavioural issues, the downside is that I ran out of time. The last topic about the parts of the microscope will have to be picked up in another unit of work, however, I believe that the progress the pupils made outweigh any concerns of rushing through the curriculum. In fact, I suspect that they have a deeper understanding of the key concepts that will benefit them in the long run instead of a crammed scheme of learning that only scratches the surface of understanding. I will be cautious as it is my first half term using the method but my current impression of Bruner’s Learning Model is positive and believe it can improve the learning and progress of our pupils.