Jerome Bruner: Scaffolding and Constructivism Theories

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Instructor: Mary Firestone

Mary Firestone has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Firestone has experience as an instructor for English, English Composition, Advanced Composition, Contemporary World Literature, Contemporary Literature, and Creative Writing. She has taught at a variety of schools such as Ottawa University Online, Rasmussen College, Excelsior College, and Southern New Hampshire University.

Psychologist Jerome Bruner's theories are considered to be important contributions to educational psychology in children. Learn about Bruner's theories of scaffolding, or supporting students through initial stages of learning, and constructivism, or ensuring that students are active in their learning process. Updated: 09/10/2021

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner was a psychologist noted for his contributions in the field of educational psychology. Born in 1915, Bruner held psychology chairs at Harvard University and at the University of Cambridge. Bruner was influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky, who shared Bruner's belief that a child's social environment and social interactions are key elements of the learning process. Bruner died in 2016.

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  • 0:01 Jerome Bruner
  • 0:26 Scaffolding Theory
  • 1:18 Constructivism
  • 2:33 Lesson Summary
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Scaffolding Theory

Bruner's studies on learning led to his research and ultimate development of the famous scaffolding theory in education, which identifies the importance of providing students with enough support in the initial stages of learning a new subject.

A 'scaffold' ensures that children aren't left to their own devices to understand something. The support, or scaffold, is removed when the student is ready, like the scaffolding that supports workers who've been constructing or repairing a building, which is removed when the construction is complete.

For instance, if a student is learning a new concept in an algebra class, he or she might observe it being done step-by-step by a more advanced peer in a small group or by a teacher. This support is the 'scaffold' he needs temporarily. Each step is demonstrated and explained, and then the student tries it on his or her own, without the scaffold.


Bruner's theory of constructivism holds that students should be active in the learning process. Such experiential learning allows learners to better process their newfound knowledge and skills. Constructivism is also based on the idea that students construct their learning on past knowledge, and that reasoning plays an important role in the learning process.

Approaches to constructivist teaching vary, but Bruner's idea of a constructivist approach is called the spiral curriculum, which involves students building on their existing knowledge. The 'spiral' is a process that begins with presenting students with a foundation of various topics early on and then touching on these subjects more deeply throughout a student's school years.

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