Other End of Bruner's Spiral:
A Proposed Educative Procedure For
Easy Integration of Knowledge.
A Learning Module For Summer School
In College or High School
Win Wenger, Ph.D., president
Project Renaissance, Box 332
Gaithersburg, MD 20884-0332.
in improved or accelerated learning should investigate the integration
of knowledge in the school curriculum. Jerome Bruner and others
made a much-respected case on behalf of organizing a core of structured
principles of understanding common to all fields of knowledge. In
Bruner's concept, each core principle would be revisited more formally
at each rung up the educational ladder. A fundamental issue in education
is the transfer of learning, from initial to other contexts. Without
an integrated base of understanding, few students remember the contents
of their courses for very long, or find them useful to either the
learning of subsequent courses or to living. Few are able to transfer
what they've learned from initial contexts into other contexts.
a core of integrated understandings, most students will be able
to do all these things and much more--very much in keeping with
the goals of any educator interested in improving long-term and
even short-term educational outcomes.
propose a simple, easy summer school program, college-level or secondary,
by means of which to induce a richly productive integration of knowledge
in its students, even where none of the school's teachers or administrators
or texts are themselves equipped with such a core(!).
knowledge is my province." --Roger Bacon
A serious complaint
by some of the more intelligent among their graduates, is that most
schools "teach each subject in a box." Each subject is
taught so dichotomously and so separately from any other subject
that there is little transfer of learning from one course to the
next, even in closely related fields. Worse, for many, there is
very little long-term retention of learning, an apparent
waste of most of the schooling effort. Nothing comes along to reinforce
what was already learned at such effort and cost. Hence the oft-quoted
definition of "an education" being "what you have
left after you've forgotten everything you've been taught."
condition, many have argued on behalf of integrating the school
curriculum around a common core structure of knowledge, with the
contents of all subjects taught as examples of the common core principles
in operation. Some, from Aristotle on, have concentrated mainly
on isolating an identified core of structural principles around
which the body of existing knowledge can be encyclopedically assembled
and organized. Others, from Oliver L. Reiser to today's Mortimer
Adler and his "Propedia"-based Encyclopedia Britannica,
have focused on compiling some identified core knowledge and principles
in more accessible or teachable form.
swamped by other issues, educators nowadays appear to feel that
to consider how to integrate knowledge is but an intellectual luxury,
one to perhaps be looked at some other time when classroom learning
generally is in less immediate prospect of extinction. Indeed, interest
in this topic may have peaked in the Sixties with the war cry of
"relevancy," which war cry was, alas, instead used mainly
to demolish old scholastic and academic standards without replacing
them with genuine improvements.
At about the
same time, though, on a far more respectable level, Jerome S. Bruner
voiced the case for an integrated "spiral" structure of
all knowledge in the curriculum. Further, he argued that "any
idea, no matter how 'advanced,' can be taught in intellectually
respectable form to any child at any stage of development"
if it is put into that child's current cognitive vocabulary"--into
the structure of basic codified experiences with which he then processes
other experiences. Ford and Pugno among others, assembled not only
such arguments but proposals by various writers for integration
within particular curriculum areas - math, english, social studies,
and the natural sciences. More recently, this present writer found
the most widely accepted behavioral law of psychology to be a central
descriptive principle not only for animal behavior but for vegetative--indeed
extending beyond lifekind to be a major structural issue in the
physical universe, which experience lends some further impetus to
the consideration that we live in one universe with one set of "natural
laws" which, once understood, render comprehensible the contents
of any academic or scientific specialization.
most promising area for integration of knowledge has been through
the general theory of systems, the study of how things work together.
Because the dynamic principles of the interactions of things are
consistent from physics to sociology to art and poetry, general
systems theory represents an especially convenient set of
descriptive physical principles around which can be assembled and
organized most or all other academic fields.
In a tradition
consistent with Wiener, von Bertalanffy, Laszlo, Kuhn,and Miller,
among others, this present writer has argued that once equipped
with a basic understanding of the general theory of systems, many
or most learners should become able to transfer virtually 100% of
everything learned in any one particular subject context into any
other particular subject context(s) and into general usefulness.
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for integrating the contents of school or academic curricula has
not in any apparent way been diminished over the years - only the
interest of current educators in that case. An encyclopedic review,
of what now amounts to a mere faded lesson in the history of education,
is not the intent of this paper. These few citings are only to indicate
that the case itself is respectable and was respected.
suggest that few topics should be of more central interest than
this one, to any professional relating to better methods of teaching
and learning or to better educational outcomes. If such an integration
can (1) reinforce prior learning; (2) improve current and future
learning; (3) result in higher long-term retention of learning,
and (4) make what is learned more useful to subsequent pursuits,
then such an integration must become a central area of interest
and concern for any quality-minded educator.
one factor especially has discouraged most teachers from taking
an active interest in the integration of knowledge. Alas: much of
the exposition and expatiation of this topic have been beyond the
convenient intellectual reach of many teachers, not only their students.
Even for those of longer intellectual reach, more urgent pressures
have usually forced attention to be switched to concrete matters
far more immediately understandable to school administrators and
That very urgency
of other matters, though, now has schools on or near the point of
losing their support so that to survive, they must begin
to demonstrate improved educational outcomes. A summerschool program
of the kind described here, run as a simple model or experiment,
could go a very long way to relieving this vulnerability. For any
school, and certainly for such schools as still have some freedom
to innovate or to test special models, we herein set forth a very
simple procedure to enable students to begin creating
their own integrated structure of knowledge, even where teachers
are not personally cognizant of such an integrated structure! After
even one such summerschool session, students will attain a high
quality intellectual and aesthetic grasp of nearly all that they
have been taught to date. The session's students will build a strikingly
high quality command of the contents of current and subsequent courses
of study. They will build and demonstrate a very high rate of long-term
retention, and render their schooling useful to their subsequent
Here is the
suggested procedure to cause students to integrate their knowledge--
Days: Getting STUDENTS To Integrate All Knowledge:
of intersessions and summer schools over normal sessions in this
regard is: offering only one or two courses intensively over a period
of but several weeks, instead of 5-6 courses at a time strung out
over a semester.
a pair of such courses. One course runs in the mornings and the
other in the afternoon, as is usual in summer schools, with the
announced anticipation that such integrations will be attempted.
Whether or not the individual teacher or professor refers to this
expectation, or indicates along the way various points relating
to previously taken courses (that would be a very desirable practice
in any case): at the conclusion of each such pair of courses, feature
an "Integration Day."
Part of the
evaluation of the students' degree of success in each course will
be their observed performance during the processes of "Integration
Day." "Integration Day" will follow the final
examination in each subject and be weighed as strongly in each student's
"grade" for the course as is that exam. Other than that,
each teacher's conduct of each course is not interfered with.
Day itself will feature use of the focussed-interactive, classroom
management techniques set forth in How To Be A Better Teacher,
Today. In an intensely guided interactive discussion format,
students will pursue the task of tracing out relationships and structural
similarities between the contents of the course just completed and
other course subjects taken previously. Students will work successively
in pairs, in threes and fours, in small buzz-groups, and in plenary
larger groups converging as a symposium proceeding and in personal
same "Integration Day" procedure for the same students,
through a sequence of three or more courses. The second "Integration
Day" will be at least ten times richer in intellectual product
than the first, and the third several times richer than the second,
as an integrative context builds from course to course.
It would be
helpful to have each teacher of those courses involved in supporting
these integrative process. However, teachers vary just as do other
human beings. Even without cooperation of and support by such teachers,
if need be the escalating comprehension and integration can be accomplished
through these "Integration Days" alone, together with
concurrent anticipation of such days by the students in these courses.
A good idea is to include many tape recorders and clerical services
for transcribing select portions of the resulting recordings from
"Integration Day." This is because the resultant intellectual
integrations will emerge in forms which are useful for more than
those particular participating students. These integrations will
be useful to other teachers and students beyond the boundaries of
the model project.
just-completed courses at a time is better than just integrating
from one course at a time. The ongoing process will be more interesting
as well as richer. On the other hand, doing three courses at a time
usually would make the task too complex. Part of the emphasis is
to recognize and highlight a structure of descriptive dynamic principles
also found in courses studied previous to entry into this model
project. Two such courses at a time afford enough more possibilities
than does one, to help students to begin generating as good many
responses and to get into a productive flow of responses
leading toward the desired integration. Even without regard to prior
learnings, comparing the structured contents of just the two courses
at a time will generate some useful initial responses. Do not leave
matters there, however, since part of the objective is to integrate
all previous and subsequent learning.
are better for this purpose than are intersessions. At least two
pairs of courses should be taught and then integrated, to allow
the greater part of this intellectual and aesthetic integration
to take place. Intersessions usually are not long enough to allow
students the greater part of the benefit from this procedure.
the gains from the summer model, schools may consider re-engineering
their wintertime programming as well, into successions of pairs
of intensive courses followed by Integration Days. One drawback
of rendering the Integration Days model into the regular school
year would be that each participating teacher would be involved
in the teaching of such courses only for those several weeks unless
teaching several such courses, a possible problem in scheduling
the school's regular faculty. On the other hand, this arrangement
could also entail the opportunity to engage especially high quality
instructors from the community and from elsewhere in the educational
system, without the expenses of committing them to a year's appointment.
researchers and educators currently engaged or on sabbatical, and
truly emeritus educators, could be available in such a project who
would not be available to the school for a year's commitment.
of the Model "Integration Days" Project:
1. Very high
long-term retention of course contents by students (and recovered
retention of prior learnings).
2. Very high
quality understandings by students of course contents past,
current and subsequent.
3. Very much
higher quality performance by students, in courses taken subsequent
to the project.
4. A very much
higher rate of usefulness of course contents, in the subsequent
lives of the students however measured, since a far higher proportion
of learning will transfer from initial contexts to other contexts.
5. A body of
integral understandings to aid not only the participating students,
but to serve as a supplemental resource for such teachers and other
students as will find such matters to be of interest.
6. Higher morale
among students finding such gains in their experience, and among
their parents, and eventually among the sources of support for the
this model project, if closely monitored and measured, will encourage
further such investigations, leading toward a time when the educative
ideal will truly be achieved, where for each student everything
learned and everything encountered, adds rich meaning to everything
else ever learned or ever encountered, forever.
persons are requested to contact the writer, toward helping make
this project and this ideal happen.
Copyright 1987, 1994 by Win Wenger, Ph.D., Project Renaissance,
301/948-1122 or fax 301/977-4712. You are authorized, however, to
reproduce the above article--in whole, including this notice, but
not in part--for educational non-commercial purposes.
©1998 by Project Renaissance (regarding this internet version
only, other copyrights may apply). While we encourage the free distribution
of this article (complete text only, including this notice and acknowledgement
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