Is Traditional Pedagogical Theory Still Relevant Today?
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Although the cognitive theory is often considered to be a complex notion yet, the fundamental idea underlying the theory is rather simple and states that human development is a function of the overall interaction and personal experiences between a person and the environment. Nonetheless, cognitive theorists tend to focus more on things that are rather intangible (Arends, 2014).
Parkay, Anctil, and Hass (2014) argued that cognitive theorists focus more on internal processes for knowledge development. These processes are impossible to directly observe and are based on inferences. Human development is directly connected with education and pedagogical debate has a significant amount of research based on social cognitive theory and how children learn and can be taught. There has been significant debate about cognitive learning and social cognition and their role in educational pedagogy.
The aim of this essay is to critically analyse Bruner’s ideas about social cognition and compare them to modern social cognitive theories in order to assess whether traditional pedagogy is still relevant in modern education systems. This essay begins with a brief explanation of Bruner’s ideas and theories and then continues to analyse the role of modern theories in existing education pedagogy. Simultaneously, this essay compares Bruner’s ideas with theories related to joint attention, imitation, theory of mind, and intentionality and assesses whether Bruner’s ideas have consistency with them. Overall the essay concludes whether there is consistency and if traditional pedagogy is still relevant.
Bruner’s Ideas and Social Cognition
The cognitive theory put forward by Bruner focused on the impact of experiential and environmental factors in the development and education of a child. This theory suggests that every child develops intellectual ability in various stages and shows how child changes using the mind. Bruner argued that for children’s development they need to learn principles and notions, or the structure of ideas, instead of simply memorising facts and information. He argued that the education and learning of children regarding any subject, in early years, should aim to encourage children to use their intuitive grasping to understand the fundamental ideas.
Bruner argued that when children grow there is a need to revise the curriculum while accounting for already learned ideas, and focus on expanding previous learning and gradually increase complete comprehension of each individual idea and also teach them interconnection between various ideas. This phenomenon, as Bruner calls is known as the “spiral curriculum”. It presents ideas in repeated learning opportunities for a given period of time.
They are organized from simple ideas to complex ideas, from generic to more specific ideas, and then focus on interaction and relationship between ideas. This is a spiral fashion of arrangement of information to be taught to children. Bruner argued that it helps children to ensure the knowledge gained is organised through a structure and thus they are able to use structured information in a more useful and accessible manner. This theory had a significant influence on teaching practices in that era. Following are the main ideas of this theory and how they were applied in the educational pedagogy context (Kolb, 2014):
- Children learn through an active process, and they select and transform ideas and information.
- Children make decisions and develop hypotheses in order to test effectiveness.
- The experience of children is fundamental in organising information with already existing knowledge.
- Support for learning can be provided by peers and adults through scaffolding and gradually the support diminishes as children grow.
- There are three stages of intellectual development. First is the enactive stage which children learn through actions. The second is an iconic stage in which children use pictures and models to learn. The third is the symbolic stage in which children develop the ability to think and analyse abstract ideas.
- There is a need to revise the curriculum and expand previously delivered knowledge.
- Children’s learning is affected by extrinsic motivation yet only for short-run and intrinsic motivation is more efface for learning
The aforementioned key points had a significant impact on educational practices which are reflected in the following (Neisser, 2014):
- Teachers must develop instruction according to learners’ levels. Teachers need to evaluate the learning modes of learners (enactive, iconic, symbolic) in order to plan and prepare adequate educational material and instructions.
- Teachers need to revise the curriculum for knowledge enhancement based on pre-taught ideas in order to let children grasp full and more complex ideas based on previously learnt simple ideas. Teachers need to organise grammar points, vocabulary, and other topics in order to encourage learners to develop increasingly deeper comprehension and elongate retention.
- There should be a sequence to present the material:
- For acquisition and construction of knowledge
- Transformation and transfer of learning.
- Teachers should involve students to use previous structures and experiences to new concepts.
- Teachers should help students to organise new information with previous knowledge in a structured way.
- Teachers need to help learners in knowledge development. The assistance increasingly diminishes to promote intrinsic motivation.
It is important to note that this theory emphasizes the role of the teacher as a critical component as teachers are responsible to organise lessons to ensure that children receive information in a structured format. Thus it can be inferred that this theory promotes traditional pedagogy in which education is based on a directed flow of information from teacher to student.
It can also be defined as the ‘pre-technology education context’ in which the role of the teacher is critical for the educational attainment and quality of education. The teacher is the source of knowledge, the educational material, and students are simply receivers of knowledge and information. Traditional pedagogy is typically based on fixed deadlines, pre-packaged learning materials, teacher-determined criteria for learning, and assessments conducted by teachers.
So far, this essay has shown that Bruner’s ideas about education of learning favour traditional pedagogy, this essay now turns its attention to modern social cognition theories and their application in education and pedagogy to assess whether the ideas of Bruner are consistent with modern theories or not.
The notion of Joint attention (JA) can be described as the ability of children to coordinate visual attention with another child or adult also called the social partner. It is important to note that majority of the studies conducted on joint attention are based on the infant stage of children. This is because the joint attention phenomenon is more observable at this stage. The research indicates that JA is a necessary component of social attention that emphasise its role in the cognitive activities of the child and how they affect learning of children.
There is a range of empirical evidence indicating that joint attention is pivotal for infant learning, social-cognitive development, and language development, particularly in the early years of life (Lieberman, Hatrak, and Mayberry, 2014). Joint attention has been identified as a significant predictor of cognitive outcomes and social competence in a typically developing child. It is also considered to be an important factor in neurodevelopmental disorders.
In addition, the latest research indicates that various measures of joint attention can be used as a unique source of information regarding variation in the performance of children in school, particularly in preschool children. Thus it can be inferred that joint attention has a significant relationship with cognitive and social outcomes in the case of preschool children. Joint attention helps in the social learning of children (Mundy, 2016).
The difference in joint attention measures of children is likely to be related to social motivation. They reflect the desire of a child to share attention and experiences and have a positive impact on communication with others. Thus it can be inferred that the individual differences in joint attention scores are predictors of social motivation and they reflect the development of the ability of children to interact with adults and peers positively.
They also predict the development of social competence in a child (Bialystok, 2015). Furthermore, research also indicates that joint attention is used as a marker for infants regarding their evolution of social cognition. Joint attention is achieved through the use of gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions to share experience and information.
In the case of preschool and school-aged children, the development of social cognition has a direct relationship with their cognitive and behavioural outcomes. Thus it can be confirmed that joint attention parameters and measures are the links between children’s social-cognitive development and their behaviour regarding learning (Moore, 2014).
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Furthermore, according to Rowell (2015), joint attention is also related to executive functions in a child and they involve regulation of attention and self-monitoring and these are critical for the cognitive and social development of children. For example, according to Koyama, (2016) the difference in the joint attention of children are linked with goal-directed or intentional actions, self-monitoring, inhibitory control, and attention regulation of children which are important in learning of children.
Children’s executive skills such as self-regulation have been identified critical part of the development of their pro-social behaviour. Finally, according to Mundy (2017), there is significant evidence suggesting that the quality and frequency of joint attention has a significant impact on the learning of toddlers and infants and these can predict the subsequent pace of learning regarding perceptions and emotions about adults and others in the environment.
Thus it can be inferred that the emotional recognition of a child is integral and critical to his/her process of comprehension and learning and it affects their ability to interact with others successfully. Furthermore, these areas of development are also considered to be important in the language development of children.
The notion of joint attention has been used extensively in the education of children with autism. There are several empirical studies that indicate that autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder and is reflected by extreme weakening in the development of joint attention skills in preschool-age of children. Therefore, researchers conclude that the development of joint attention skills is the basic idea for the pedagogy of children with autism.
Focusing on joint attention skills of autistic children, teachers and adults can help them in social-cognitive development (Pickard and Ingersoll, 2015). It has been recognised that social attention coordination and social attention processes of children determine the success of interactions between children and others and the degree of social competence of children including infants as well as young children.
Overall it can be inferred that if the joint attention capacity or skills of the child is compromised and the child lacks developing a common frame of reference with others such as peers or teachers then the child is likely to lack capacity in various skills, which include language and learning (Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2015).
There is also significant research that shows that joint attention has a significant relationship with language learning, particularly in terms of word learning. In children, early language acquisition is partly reflected by object naming and partly by recognition. The idea of word learning is related to joint attention because adults or peers use pointing gestures to develop a common point of reference with a child and teach the name and characteristics of any object.
This action helps the child to learn the name of an object as well as any instruction that the adult expects the child to follow. Previous research has extensively used this construct and shows that it is a well-defined approach to assess word learning in children (Mundy et al., 2016). For instance, Pickard and Ingersoll (2015) conducted a series of studies of novel object recognition and concluded that joint attention skills are increasingly used by infants during age 5 months to 9 months.
After reaching 9 months, children use joint attention for a variety of other actions, for example, they use vocal cues and hand gestures. Furthermore, the study also showed that examinations of object recognition indicate that infants tend to prefer looking and pointing at objects and they use it as a social referencing component. Thus it indicates that social cues are used by children for future attention and recognition.
Overall the theoretical debate so far indicates that joint attention construct can be used in pedagogy to promote learning in children. It is also used in the modern education system to promote the social development of children with autism. The role of the teacher is critical in implementing the notion of joint attention in pedagogy development for children, especially for pre-scholars and children with autism. The theory clearly indicates that pedagogy and curriculum should be developed according to the joint skills of learners and they can be manipulated to enhance joint attention skills of children which ultimately affect the behaviour of children towards social partners and towards learning.
Modern pedagogy based on the use of modern technology, particularly ICTs can be used as tools to develop a joint frame of reference and direct attention of children towards the desired object, yet the role of the teacher remains critical for the use of modern technologies. Furthermore, modern technologies are unable to measure or observe the individual needs of children and tailor pedagogy with reference to variation in joint attention skills of learners, thus the role of the teacher remains critical. Modern teachers can evaluate the weakness in joint attention skills of children in a class and then apply adequate strategies to promote learning in underachievers or for children with autism. Thus, it can be fairly opined that traditional pedagogy still remains relevant.
One of the important forms of learning in children that manifest right from birth is learning by imitation. Wang, Williamson, and Meltzoff (2015) concluded that infants, even one-hour-old infants, are able to imitate various gestures such as mouth opening and tongue protrusion as they watch adults or others manifesting the same gestures. However, when children reach the age of 9 months, their ability to manipulate new objects develops fast, and they start to imitate how others use objects such as babies imitate how others manipulate a toy.
As children grow they can even imitate actions that they watch performed by adults. Furthermore, children are able to imitate the actions of adults such as using a toy to make sound or pressing a key of the keyboard or a toy to make sound or start the music. Thus it can be inferred that imitation is an important form of learning in children and thus it can be used by educators to instill desirable actions and behaviours in children in response to every situation (Meltzoff et al., 2017).
There are several positive impacts of imitation on cognitive development of children. Children can imitate the precise actions of others to support and accelerate their cultural learning regarding arbitrary rituals and instrumental actions. Social routines and Instrumental innovations may reach other communities spread through imitation, ultimately such behaviours may be transferred from one generation to the next and thus they offer ample opportunities for cumulative progress (Wang, Williamson, and Meltzoff, 2015).
Another important benefit of imitation is its ability to increase learning opportunities. Even if children do not understand the acts completely, they are able to imitate them partially in order to discover cognitive understanding and deeper meaning of adults’ actions (Wobber et al., 2014).
The theory of connectionism indicates that learning effects that were considered developmentally special previously can be yielded by a constant learning mechanism. For children, the quality of the learning environment is affected by the frequency of learning events experienced by children and thus they are crucial for children’s acquisition of expertise (Marshall and Meltzoff, 2014). Imitation can be used by teachers to motivate learning in children.
According to connectionist models, complex cognition may develop even in the absence of symbolic thought. The same can be observed in the theory presented by Bruner, in which he stated that the inputs for the cognitive development of children are partially internal and partially symbolic. The set of internal mediators are very important in the cognitive development of children as well as for language development. Children imitate adults to learn words, stories, and plays (Simpson et al., 2015).
Within the context of education, the social recognition and cognitive development of children play an important role. The discussion above indicates that children imitate to learn objects, words, and stories, and thus this phenomenon can be used by teachers and adults to promote learning and knowledge development in children.
The concept here is also interlinked with the concept of joint attention (Pickard and Ingersoll, 2015). Teachers and adults can use joint attention cues to focus the attention of a child on a particular gesture or object and teach him/her about the response. Reversibly, teachers and adults can also identify certain words and gestures (joint attention cues) that are used by children to communicate with them and then deliver proper responses as feedback (Subiaul et al., 2016).
Again it can be inferred that the role of the teacher remains critical for the learning and cognitive development of children and thus the notion of traditional pedagogy that teachers are central to children learning and social development remains relevant for modern pedagogy.
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Theory of Mind (ToM)
The theory of mind (ToM) refers to a causal explanatory framework developed by children to understand human behaviour. This framework helps them to understand psychological causality. Children learn about conditional probabilities and correlations that are embedded in human behaviour. For instance, they learn behaviour towards certain events for which people around them may respond with happiness or anger.
They learn goal-directed actions and observe emotional responses and identify cause and effect relationships. ToM also shows how children follow gaze and infer intention or interest and they also engage in joint attention with people around them. They share toys with peers and learn other social contingencies (Rabkina et al., 2017).
By using ToM researchers gain an understanding of the mental states of children, and thus make predictions about their behaviour considering their desires and beliefs. For instance, if a child sees a person reaching for a certain object such as a toy, the child may desire to imitate the action. This can be considered as goal-directedness that behaviour of children manifests in response to their experience with others.
Within the context of education, the most prominent example of the application of ToM is pretend play. For instance, teachers involve students in socio-dramatic role-play to helps them to gain an understanding of social beliefs and values in society (Kristen and Sodian, 2014). Similarly, for the language development of children, there is a significant discourse about how family and school play important roles in the earlier development of ToM of children.
The Theory of mind (ToM) encourage children to gain understanding and knowledge about teaching and learning processes in numerous facets, which include knowing what they do not know; understanding what other people know; understanding that other people may not know about things that children know; and to know how to gain knowledge about anything.
ToM shows that children identify sources of information and knowledge for example asking parents or teachers about unknown objects (Cavadel and Frye, 2017). ToM can be applied in education and pedagogy development in order to provide structured knowledge to children. This inference is consistent with Bruner’s ideas that children need teachers to provide structured pedagogy to help them learn and gain knowledge.
The theory of mind also indicates that the cognitive development of children is dependent upon the cues in the external environment. Similarly, the educational process and learning of children remain dependent upon the environment within which children are learning. This is consistent with the theory of Bruner who concluded that experiential and environmental factors in the development and education of a child.
The discussion above concludes that Bruner posited that the role of the teacher is a critical component as teachers are responsible to organise lessons to ensure that children receive information in a structured format. Thus it can be inferred that this theory promotes traditional pedagogy in which education is based on a directed flow of information from teacher to student. It can also be defined as the ‘pre-technology education context’ in which the role of the teacher is critical for the educational attainment and quality of education.
The construct of joint attention can be used in pedagogy to promote learning in children. It is also used in the modern education system to promote the social development of children with autism. Modern teachers can evaluate the weakness in joint attention skills of children in a class and then apply adequate strategies to promote learning in underachievers or for children with autism. Thus, it can be fairly opined that traditional pedagogy still remains relevant.
The discussion above indicates that children imitate to learn objects, words, and stories, and thus this phenomenon can be used by teachers and adults to promote learning and knowledge development in children. The theory of mind also indicates that the cognitive development of children is dependent upon the cues in the external environment. Overall it can be concluded that the theory of Bruner who concluded that experiential and environmental factors in the development and education of a child are critical and the role of the teacher is central in the educational and learning process of children remain relevant for modern pedagogy as well.
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