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Demonstrating Jerome Bruner’s 3 learning modes: Enactive, Iconic, and Symbolic

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Many educators have made a study of the psychologist, Jerome Bruner.

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Psychologist Jerome Bruner developed the idea of three learning modes: enactive, iconic, and symbolic.

According to the encyclopedia section of the free dictionary.com, three very interesting facts about Jerome Bruner include:

“Bruner is one of the pioneers of the cognitive psychology movement in the United States.”

“Bruner studied the way children learned and coined the term ‘scaffolding’ to describe the way children often build on the information they have already mastered.”

“In his research on the development of children (1966), Bruner proposed three modes of representation: enactive representation (action-based), iconic representation (image-based), and symbolic representation (language-based). …Bruner's theory suggests it is efficacious when faced with new material to follow a progression from enactive to iconic to symbolic representation; this holds true even for adult learners.”

As an example of these three learning modes, you can involve your kindergartners and first graders in three math activities.

Activity #1 demonstrating the enactive mode of learning

Materials needed: macaroni noodles, chart paper, aluminum foil or pipe cleaners, and glue (optional)

Step 1: Students should lay out a piece of chart paper on their desk.

Step 2: Students will construct a plus sign and an equal sign out of aluminum foil or a pipe cleaner. Alternatively, they could cut one out of construction paper. As they will work several math problems, they might want to make several of these, one plus sign and one equal sign per math equation.

Step 3: Students will first create the math equation of two plus three. They will lay down two macaroni noodles to the left of the plus sign. They will lay down three macaroni noodles to the right of the plus sign. Next, they place the equal sign to the right of this enactive math equation.

Step 4: If desired, they could glue this on the chart paper.

Step 5: They should count up how many macaroni noodles they have altogether. Then, to the right of the equal sign, they could either write the answer five (5) using a crayon or marker. Alternatively, they could count out the appropriate number of macaroni noodles so that they can glue on their answer in that manner.

Step 6: You might want to write several math equations on the board that the students will display enactively on their chart paper using the macaroni noodles.

Suggestion: If you don’t have macaroni noodles available, you could have them crumple up bits of colored paper into little balls and glue those on the chart paper instead.

Activity #2 demonstrating the iconic mode of learning

Note to the teacher: For the two math pages plus correlating answer keys to download and print, click the link below. Duplicate the first two pages for each student. You only need to make one copy each of the two answer key pages to more quickly grade their work.

Hand out the Zeb and Deb math worksheet called Sun addition. This page has eighteen math equations for the students to work. They will add up the pictures of a sun and write the answers in the box.

This math sheet demonstrates the iconic mode of learning.

Here are the eighteen problems shown below. Please recall that an answer key has been provided for your convenience in the PDF free download.

Sun Addition (Iconic version)

1. ** + *** = ___

2. **** + ** = ___

3. * + ***** = ___

4. ***** + * = ___

5. *** + **** = ___

6. ** + ***** = ___

7. **** + **** = ___

8. * + *** = ___

9. ***** + ** = ___

10. *** + ***** = ___

11. ** + **** = ___

12. **** + *** = ___

13. * + ** = ___

14. ***** + **** = ___

15. *** + *** = ___

16. * + **** = ___

17. **** + ***** = ___

18. ***** + *** = ___

Activity #3 demonstrating the symbolic mode of learning

Note to the teacher: For the two math pages plus correlating answer keys to download and print, click the link below. Duplicate the first two pages for each student. You only need to make one copy each of the two answer key pages to more quickly grade their work.

Hand out the Zeb and Deb math worksheet called Sun addition. This page has eighteen math equations for the students to work. They will add up the numbers and write the answers in the box.

This math sheet demonstrates the symbolic mode of learning.

Here are the eighteen problems shown below. Please recall that an answer key has been provided for your convenience in the PDF free download.

Sun Addition (Symbolic version)

1. 2 +3 = ___

2. 4 + 2 = ___

3. 1 + 5 = ___

4. 5 + 1 = ___

5. 3 + 4 = ___

6. 2 + 5 = ___

7. 4 + 4 = ___

8. 1 + 3 = ___

9. 5 + 2 = ___

10. 3 + 5 = ___

11. 2 + 4 = ___

12. 4 + 3 = ___

13. 1 + 2 = ___

14. 5 + 4 = ___

15. 3 + 3 = ___

16. 1 + 4 = ___

17. 4 + 5 = ___

18. 5 + 3 = ___

Final suggestion: You might want to have the students work with a partner as they create the eighteen problems shown on their worksheet using macaroni noodles glued to a piece of chart paper. One student could work problems one through nine. The other student could work problems ten through eighteen.

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See Debbie Dunn’s articles on | K-8 Classroom Activities | School Conflict Resolution | Women’s Health | Storytelling Website

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For comments or questions, e-mail: moredunntales@yahoo.com

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