Bruner approached the study of cognitive development from a psychological-experimental frame of reference.
He, his colleagues and his students involved much greater number of individuals than used by Piaget, under controlled experiments.
Bruner studied the means by which human beings interact with the environment cognitively.
He observed the initial emergence of the means of acting on the environment and representing experience, and also the continuity of development. Bruner agrees with Piaget regarding the description of internal representation of experience. But Bruner emphasized continuity, the importance of language and the importance of education in cognitive development more than Piaget. ,
Bruner conceived three ways of knowing something: through actually performing it (through doing it), through sensing it and through a symbolic means such as language. He used three special terms to designate these three actions. Knowing and representing experiences are according to him “enactive”, “ikonic” and “symbolic”. They denote not only representing internally but also operational on the environment.
They follow a sequential course :
“acting on the environment—enactive representation; be able to execute the act it represents….A picture is a selective analogue of what it stands for and only in a trivial sense is it a “copy” of its referent….yet it is not arbitrary. One cannot fathom the word for something by looking at something. One can learn to recognize the image of something just by looking at something….”
The representation of knot in symbolic terms is not so readily stated, for it involves at the outset a choice of the code in which the knot is to be described.
For symbolic representation—whether in natural or mathematical “language”— requires the translation of what is to be represented into discrete terms that may then be formed into “utterances” or “settings” or “sentences”, or whatever the medium used to combine the discrete elements by rule.
Note too that whatever symbolic code one uses, it is also necessary to specify whether one is describing a process of typing a knot or the knot itself (at some stage being tied). There is, moreover, a choice in the linguistic description of a knot whether to be highly concrete or to describe this knot as one of a general class of knots.
However, one settles these choices, what remains is that a symbolic representation has built-in-features that are specialized and distinctive.
Bruner’s contribution to cognitive development is of interest to the teachers and curriculum workers in planning the classroom programmes. “Bruner’s contentions would act as a basis of classifying children at various age levels when they are required to categorize objects sensing the environment—ikonic representation; interacting with the environment through language—symbolic representation.”
These three modes of interacting processes start early in the child’s life in the order given. Successive emergence of the three modes become interrelated and continue throughout life and never drop out.
We give Bruner’s own views regarding three modes and their operational interaction in his own language:
“We can talk of three ways in which somebody ‘knows’ something: through doing it, through a picture or image of it, and through some such symbolic means as language. A first approach to understanding the distinction between the three can be achieved by viewing each as if it were external—though our eventual object is to view representations as internal.
With respect to a particular knot we learn the act of tying it and, when we “know” the knot, we know it by the habitual pattern of action we have mastered.
The habit by which the knot is represented is socially organised, governed by some sort of scheme that holds its successive segments together and, in some sense, related to other acts that either facilitate it or interfere with it. There is a fair amount of sensory-motor feedback involved in carrying out the act in question, yet what is crucial is that such a representation is executed in the medium of action.
Representation in imagery is just that: the picture of the knot in question, its final phase or some intermediate phase, or indeed even a motion picture of the knot being formed. It is obvious—yet worth saying—that to have a picture before one (or in one’s head) is not necessarily to as belonging to the same class, thereby forming concepts of equivalent.
Five modes of responding to the tasks were identified as the bases on which items were classified as equivalent: perceptual, functional, effective, nominal and fiat.
The child renders the items equivalent on the basis of immediate phenomenal qualities such as size, colour, shape, or on the basis of position in time or space, e.g. they are both on the ground.
The child renders the items equivalence on the use of the items e.g. they make noise – whatever behaviour is functional.
Equivalence on the basis of the emotion they arouse, e.g. I like both or on the basis of the child’s evaluation of them.
The child may classify the items by giving a name that exists in the language, e.g. They are all fruits.
Sorting out the difference or sameness without giving further information.
Other important characteristic are the developing grouping structures employed with increasing age e.g. the category or concept is formed on the basis of common attributes characterizing the items.
Bruner, more than Piaget, emphasizes the role of the environment and education, in the process of cognitive development. Nelson and Klausmeir found, following
Bruner education not only affects the acceleration or retardation of the conceptual development; it influences the very means of conceptualization employed by the individual.
Flavell’s interpretation of Stages:
Flavell expressed his opinion about the stages of cognitive development as almost like the metamorphosis in the insects if viewed the stages in totality perspective.
Four conclusions follow regarding the cognitive items:
(1) The interaction of the individual with the environment during each stage is not isolated and unrelated. The items, while experiencing, interact with one another in specified ways and are utilized by the individual as interrelated items. The items, according to Flavell, form an organized cognitive structure of the individual.
(2) The organized cognitive structures at each successive stages are both qualitatively and quantitatively different from those defining the previous stages of cognitive development. They become entirely new structures at each stage and not an improved version of what had already been achieved.
(3) Each individual cognitive item functions up to the mature level of proficiency irrespective of the stages the child belongs to. For example, the child in the preoperational stage this week, who is not capable of conservation, will be in the concrete operational stage next week and will conserve as is the characteristic of that stage. It seems abrupt or a spurt, but is, in fact, gradual as the child reaches maturity.
(4) All the items that define any particular stage make this abrupt, fully mature transition simultaneously. Therefore, it can be concluded that the child who seems to enter abruptly the stage of concrete operation is in full command of each previous operation, and is immediately capable of all the operations that define the stage.
Flavell emphasizes the importance of the stages in cognitive development. He says that the ongoing stages do not exhibit metamorphic change of cognitive development of the child at each level but that ‘stage’ is a useful theoretical construct in the study of human cognitive development.
Flavell’s conception of the ‘stages’ imply a continuous but qualitative change in the maturing individual’s role and behaviour in classification of skills, concepts, principles etc. at the beginning of each stage. But the items that define each stage mature gradually, rather than abruptly.
The various items of any particular stage do not achieve their mature level until long after the end of the stage that marked their initial appearance. But for the rate at which various items or dimensions of a particular stage matures.
Flavell depicts three possible patterns:
(a) some items may emerge at about the same time but matures at different rates;
(b) some may emerge at different points of time and reach their final level at the same time;
(c) still others may emerge at different points in time, mature at parallel rates and, therefore, also reach maturity at different times.
The overriding educational implication of the theories of cognitive developmental stages rests on the fact that the teacher—with the knowledge of the mental equipment of the child while maturing at each stage—should be concerned with when to start teaching of any particular skill or concept in which he/she is interested, and what is the rate of its maturation.
The teacher should also know the extent of gradualness and continuity and where does appear the spurt or abruptness. A teacher can only use the description of stages forwarded by Piaget and others to try to understand a child from the frame of reference of the child and not from the adult point of view.
He/She should bear in mind that a growing child perceives himself and the physical world in his own way much different from adult perceptions.
The child’s conceptions or misconceptions, how they think about’ themselves and others depend entirely on the constructed image of their own thought process—this very fact had been highlighted by the developmental psychologists.
Careful study of Piaget and other stage theorists should enable the adults to understand the child from their point of view and to treat the child as a developing but immature human being.