How do we get to know what we know?

Can you be sure of what you are seeing? Can you trust that what you see really is what it seems to be?

Consider this picture. Are A and B the same shade of grey? Of course not… 


Image result for optical illusion grey square

But, if you follow this link, you will see that in fact they are.

And what do you see in this image? (Which is just one of many ambiguous images)

Image result for ambiguous illusions

So we can’t trust what we see… Why? Isn’t reality real? Well, it is, but we come to see and understand reality based on who we are and what we have experienced (our “thrownness”). As we experience the world, we build our own unique ideas about what we are perceiving. If our perception can be ambiguous for a simple image, how much more complex will it be when we consider the influences of culture, family and all the many experiences and influences we have that form us. 

This means that learning will always be a unique experience for each and every student in the class, and the teacher. Put more formally: 

The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to “go beyond the information given”. (This is a basic summary of Bruner’s ideas).


So what does this mean for us as teachers:

  • Take into account the experiences and contexts that students bring with them to the classroom.
  • Teach to where the particular student is in terms of their life and understanding.
  • Teach so as to facilitate extrapolation and/or filling in the gaps, allowing the student to build her own understanding of the concepts.

“Constructivist Theory” (Jerome Bruner). Retrieved from

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