Learning becomes meaningful when students are actively involved in generating their meanings. In most cases, teachers utilize the traditional approach to teaching which places them in a tight corner as one who is an embodiment of knowledge, a working library and a perhaps a walking library. In this mode, teachers are seen as knowledge disseminators, one who regurgitate facts, the sole heir to the throne of knowledge. The students are positioned as dependents. Their skills of discoveries shattered, as most of their discoveries may not necessarily follow the teachers established pattern.
Teachers who operate at the traditional mode of instruction are predominantly talkative, teaching becomes mechanistic, a set of program, with little or no room for input. Information becomes more of memorization, rote-learning is enhanced. Students’ self-discovery has no place in this mode of education. Hence, students are placed in a constant position of dependence. Rather than being active performers, they become passive observers.
As Jerome Brunner asserts, learning becomes meaningful when students take ownership of their learning. In other words, when students are active participants in their learning process, the teacher’s role as a disseminator of knowledge changes to that of a facilitator. He is now seen as a partner in progress, rather than an island. Learning becomes more fun, real and effective. Due to the nature of learners as explorers, the teacher is now positioned in a situation where he or she must strive continuously to develop and improve his content as well as methodologies to keep pace with emerging trends.
However, as pointed out in the works of Brunner and other constructivists, there exist the need for a conscious drift from the traditional mode of teaching to a much more elaborate and all inclusive system of teaching otherwise referred to as the twenty-first century teaching. The stake here is ensuring that students are active participants in their course of learning. Thus, when teachers teach, they do not indoctrinate, teachers try to appeal to the interest of their learners. For the success of teacher’s encounter in the teaching industry, much tasks and efforts cannot be undermined. Hence, the common practice where in teachers are seen as custodians of knowledge, a walking library, a citadel of knowledge, and in fact knowledge itself no longer holds water.
To impact meaningfully in a student may be a daunting task, yet rewarding. When teachers successfully train a child, a nation is trained. A nation whose aspiration cannot grow beyond the educational qualification of her teachers. A teacher is that special being. Special because he has chosen to take the path often ridiculed by others. A path whose take home does not necessarily commensurate with his task. A path whose reward has been tagged to be in heaven. Funny to ask, who will pay teachers in heaven?, wherein the teachers’ job will be defined as a job for humanity that may not necessarily be tagged by an entitlement.
Thus, in implementing the modern pattern of teaching, teachers should not consider the learners as daft, as individual students possess a unique perception to any course content encountered. Students should be divided into groups and assigned with different tasks. Their discoveries should be presented to the whole class. Contribution of every group member should be emphasized.
Teachers should understand and effectively utilize Brunner’s identified types of discovery learning. In this regard, teachers should be familiar with the concept of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when a student is able to see, identify and establish relationship(s) between what he has learnt in the past and the present knowledge in such a way that the two knowledge are properly understood and digested.
Accommodation occurs when the new learning, material or knowledge is completely different from what the student knows previously. There is little or no correlation between the two knowledge. In this situation, the student needs cognitive restructuring of the past knowledge to accommodate the present knowledge, to avoid mixing up of knowledge and conflicting facts.
Accommodation is applicable when the learner has just finished a topic in a subject and another topic is about to begin in another subject. In most cases, these topics are often dissimilar, thus, teachers must understand the modes of discovery learning and create avenues in manners which assist students to properly prepare for the disjoint study content. Hence, the need for accommodation time, where-in students logically disintegrate the previous unrelated subject from the new subject.
In addition, schools should be structured in a way that recognizes students’ stages of discovery. By so doing, schools are able to optimize students’ orientation to knowledge, while still creating avenues for supportive learning. In other words, lesson contents become adequately relevant to students developmental stage and learning becomes meaningful. Brunner believed that children of different age represent the world to themselves in fundamentally different ways. Hence, children exhibit cognitive abilities in coping with their learning in different ways. To him, three stages are of importance, these are; Enactive Stage, Iconic Stage, and Symbolic Stage.
The enactive stage occur between child-birth to one year. At this stage, children (toddlers) and pre-scholars think of the world primarily in terms of the actions that can be performed by them. They move towards things that gain their attention. They want to touch, hold, grasp, move and feel any concrete object within their reach. Hence, teachers are expected to create avenues that stimulate this adventurous nature of theirs, while still monitoring their actions to avoid complications as well as injuries.
The second stage called the iconic stage occurs between age two and three years. At this stage, children make use of images and pictures to represent their environment, i.e. persons, things, events etc. This they do by creating a model image of what they have seen before and as such, they are best taught using pictures, images and diagrams. Thus, teachers saddled with learners at this stage are expected to utilize various activities that encourage learners’ imagery re-representation.
The last stage according to Brunner is the symbolic stage, occurring between ages four and seven. At this stage, i.e. late childhood to early adolescence, children have moved from creating mental images to symbolic representation, they can think by means of verbal symbols. Languages can also replace pictures, and images in their thinking and learning. Similarly, this stage allows for the representation of ideas with the use of verbal propositions, mathematical formulas and logical symbols. This stage is characterized by rapid cognitive development and efficiency.
According to Olajide and Gbadesere (1992), discovery learning can exist in three forms, these are; Free inquiry, Guided inquiry and Modified-free inquiry. The free inquiry allows students the opportunity to generate their knowledge or learning without any form of interference from the teacher. This form of discovery allows students the avenue to explore different learning materials already in line with a specified theme. The guided inquiry affords the teacher the opportunity to interact with the learners with a view of correcting misconceptions, ambiguities and provision of essential ideas. The teacher functions more as a facilitator. The modified free inquiry presents an avenue for both teachers and learners to work as a team. Ideas are presented, thoughts are shared and meanings are formulated.
Thus, from the fore-going, when teachers implement discovery learning strategies in their classroom, teaching becomes interesting, less stressful, activity driven and co-operative. The teacher becomes relieved of his initial position as “Mr know it all,” learning becomes a creative avenue. Students’ interest, team spirit and sense of belonging are encouraged and the whole class scenario becomes fruitful. In this regard, parents get more value for their monies, they are inclusive of their child(ren) education, the teachers’ roles are thus appreciated.