Considering how to see what learning looks like – conceptual change

On concepts & narratives of learning

In keeping with my commitment to post-as-I-think as opposed to posting-when-I’m-finished-thinking, here’s what I’m working on at the moment, and still working on. I have created the diagram at the bottom of this post to aid discussions around the design of the curriculum in relation to models and narratives of learning.

All this began a very long time ago, starting from my exploration into what is meant by ‘conceptual thinking’ and how we structure learning so as to deepen ‘conceptual understanding’. For a very long time (and we’re talking years/ decades here) I have been interested in:

  • The cognitive development of conceptual understanding: How abstract concepts become tangible to learners so that they gain a secure understanding of them


  • The metacognition of conceptual understanding: The actual process involved in developing the understanding of these concepts so that learners have a greater understanding and awareness of how they acquired this new knowledge so that they might draw upon this in the future

This poses questions for me as to how (if it is indeed possible) we might identify specific moments within a learning session when metacognitive skills have been or could be deliberately developed and, at this moment, consciously recognised by learners. I am particularly interested in how this self recognition occurs authentically and beyond surface-level awareness of teacher-defined expected metacognitive skills. So that a learner becomes consciously aware of their deepening understanding of fundamental concepts either as they happen or as part of a reflective dialogue, taking place within particular subject domains or contexts.

I’m also intrigued by the emotional aspect involved in this process – how it feels to be faced with–>then grapple with and then–> finally–>grasp a difficult concept to the extent where it can–>then be applied to new contexts and/or connected with existing knowledge.

Anyway, this is where my need to draw and visualise thinking kicks in.

The diagram below is a synthesis of my current thinking about this. It is an interpretation, a visualisation and an integration of a number of sources, ideas and inspirations from:

  1. At the heart of the diagram is my interpretation of an article by Esther Zirbel, adapted from, “Teaching to promote deep understanding and provoke conceptual change” (2005)
  2. Above the dotted line (in blue) a sequence of metacognitive skills that I’ve been using as reference for learning dispositions for the past few years
  3. On the lower dotted line (in orange) I’ve integrated a highly simplistic reference point from one of my favourite sources of inspiration which I’ve been using to help my thinking about curriculum design and learning models from Martin (@Surrealanarchy) Robinson’s book, “Trivium 21c
  4. On the arrow along the bottom of the diagram, the interrelationship between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment (mentioned previously)

Visualising Learning

I have attempted to indicate a non-linear pathway with a fat dotted line. Imagine this is one single learning sequence, whereas in reality, it is likely that it will loop or spiral back to previous stages, depending on the level of security the learner has at any given stage. I am by no means suggesting that learning is linear but wanting instead to map the experiences of a learner as a system or process.

The metacognitive skills are developed through the sequence (in blue) and the process of knowledge acquisition and transference through the three elements of curriculum-pedagogy-assessment which I’ve written about here) are depicted under the thin dotted line.

How is this of any use…?

We’ll, here’s how I’m using it…

  • Seeing learning as a narrative: I am using this visualisation as a way to describe learning experiences as narrative. Which is beginning to have some additional applications beyond the formal curriculum provision on offer in school settings.
  • Curriculum & Lesson Design Tool: I am hoping that this will be particularly helpful as I continue working on the deliberate design of the curriculum (longer sequences of learning) and any series of lessons within a fixed-term project or even individual sequences within lessons.
  • Project & Enrichment Learning Design Tool: It may also be of use when planning field trips, enrichment activities or end-of-term excursions, when seeking to ensure that as much ‘learning value’ as possible can be squeezed out of any organised visit to a museum, place of interest or gallery.
  • Self-Reflection Tool: This visual description is also useful in sharing with learners to VISUALISE their own learning and identify moments to either reflect on or expect it to be hard and difficult, and see any moments of struggle and challenge as an integral and necessary element of the process of learning. By using the diagram as a self-reflection tool, learners can identify the moments when they encountered struggle, challenge and success and use this as a script to articulate their own learning processes, the strategies that they used and how this might inform their approach to learning in the future.

Anyway, I’d be interested in any feedback and thoughts you have on this. Let me know if you can see a use for visualising learning in this way, perhaps if only to make the people we are working with (adults and young people alike) aware that we KNOW what we ask of them when we ask them to ‘learn’ and we are ready to support them in what is about to come…that they are about to place their unique footprints into the wet sand of a well-worn path. Or something like that…

3 thoughts on “Considering how to see what learning looks like – conceptual change

  1. Inspired by your blogging whilst thinking through, the following is ‘just mined/unrefined’…… learning is so messy it is a challenge to represent in 2D so maybe a 3D model that could run several scenarios to emphasise the looping back/non-imposed linearity of much learning? showing as light bulb moments or energy-efficient bulbs beginning their slow burn to brightness (could be coded as above with colour/label?), I’m thinking of those models showing global flight-paths/internet use, to represent brain activity – exposing those untapped ‘dark’ areas we hope to explore – two or more brains’ learning could be modelled to show the interplay between learners, including the teacher as learner, and the power of collaboration/communication – now starting to think of mapping the states of ‘flow’ and ‘buzz’ throughout learning….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s