Using Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Framework to Design Support Systems for Education and Special Education: Learning About Thought Systems

Using Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Framework to Design Support Systems for Education and Special Education: Learning About Thought Systems

Gabriela Walker (University of South Dakota, USA) and Elizabeth Pattison (Ashland University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9634-1.ch012
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Principles of Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory were reviewed to examine potential uses for classroom teachers and re-imagine Bronfenbrenner's System's Theory into a series of novel frameworks that could be practically applied to students' lives and experiences outside of the classroom environment. This interpretive review offers educators and families novel conceptual frameworks intended to foster deep understanding of individual students and to provide practical tools to visualize and navigate the unique web of human relationships and support available outside of the classroom. Fourteen newly created “systems theories” are briefly presented here.
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Background And Main Focus

Bronfenbrenner (1979) set up a system model for understanding human ecology, starting from the microsystem representing the developing child, to the mesosystem encapsulating “interpersonal structures in the form of dyads and N+2 systems” (p. 209), the exosystem consisting of one or more settings, and to the macrosystem referring to cultures and subcultures. “The ecological environment is conceived as a set of nested structures, each inside the next, like a set of Russian dolls” (p. 3; see Fig. 9), in which “environments are not distinguished by reference to linear variables but are analyzed in systems terms” (p. 5), i.e. multi-systemic.

Figure 9.

The Paint Palette Theory


Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory is a theory rooted in the belief that a child develops interactively, in response to various levels of environmental relationships and influences. This model situates the child at the center of the world, and it considers the child as an active participant in his/her learning and development. The various human and institutional relationships available to the child are envisioned as a series of systems layered concentrically around the child, similar to a Russian Matryoshka doll (see Figure 1). These systems influence the child directly (the microsystem formed of immediate relationships) and indirectly (the Mesosystem – pertaining to second-degree interactions about the child among interested parties; the Exosystem – regarding contextual events that affect the microsystem; the Macrosystem – consisting of cultures, policies, economies, etc.; and the Cronosystem related to time lapse) (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Friend & Cook, 2013).

Figure 1.

Brofenbrenner’s Ecological Framework


Key Terms in this Chapter

Interpretive Theory: Refers to a relatively large umbrella category that includes analytical perspectives and theories spanning the fields of communication, sociology, anthropology, education, cultural studies, political science, history, and the humanities writ large. Interpretive theories, sometimes referred to as interpretivism or philosophical interpretivism, are orientations to social reality based on the goal of understanding. Thus, we can define interpretive theories as ontological and epistemological tools used in research concerned with understanding how individuals and groups create meaning in their everyday practices, communication, and lived experiences. In part, interpretivists are (a) scholars who are interested in the ways communities, cultures, or individuals create meaning from their own actions, rituals, interactions, and experiences; (b) scholars who wish to interpret local meanings by locating them into a broader historical, geographical, political, linguistic, ideological, economic, and cultural milieu; (c) researchers who look at the meanings of texts and the codes and rules (Vannini, 2009 AU3: The in-text citation "Vannini, 2009" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , in Stephen Littlejohn & Karen Foss Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, 2009 AU4: The in-text citation "Karen Foss Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, 2009" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). Interpretive theory is more accepting of free will and sees human behavior as the outcome of the subjective interpretation of the environment.

Venn Diagram or Set Diagram: A diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets. Venn diagrams were conceived around 1880 by John Venn. They are used to teach elementary set theory, as well as illustrate simple set relationships in probability, logic, statistics, linguistics and computer science.

Systems Theory: Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research. The term does not yet have a well-established, precise meaning, but systems theory can reasonably be considered a specialization of systems thinking; alternatively as a goal output of systems science and systems engineering, with an emphasis on generality useful across a broad range of systems (versus the particular models of individual fields).

Disability: The consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these. A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime.

Interactionism: A theoretical perspective that derives social processes (such as conflict, cooperation, identity formation) from human interaction. It is the study of how individuals act within society. Interactionist theory has grown in the latter half of the twentieth century and has become one of the dominant sociological perspectives in the world today. George Herbert Mead, as an advocate of pragmatism and the subjectivity of social reality is considered a leader in the development of interactionism. Herbert Blumer expanded on Mead's work and coined the term “symbolic interactionism”.

Matryoshka Doll: Also known as Russian nesting doll or Russian doll, refers to a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. The name is believed to be a derivative of “Matriosha” or “Matriona,” which were female names that enjoyed immense popularity among Russian peasants. The name connotes the matriarch of a big Russian family.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. Recognizing that the way individuals learn can be unique, the UDL framework, first defined by David H. Rose of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology(CAST) in the 1990s, calls for creating curriculum from the outset that provides: (a) Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge; (b) Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and (c) Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

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