What Learning Looks Like…to me

A personal think-piece

Combining visualisation, design and systems-thinking, this is my visual response to the question,’What does coherent, evidenced-based learning look, sound and feel like?’.

Something to watch with a cup of tea…

(Created in Keynote, converted into Mp4 with a rather lovely Creative Commons soundtrack from Bensound found here: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music)

‘6 UP’ – Leading change modelling leadership at all levels

David Jackson pointed me in the direction of this great talk from Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. In her TEDx Talk below on the ‘6 Keys of Leading Change’ there are loads of insights and gems that can be applied to a plethora of contexts.
  • Show-Up: Being visible, being involved and being able to understand every perspective and viewpoint in an organisation or project; to understand, develop empathy, make informed decisions and ultimately, ‘making oneself available’ and knowing that sometimes, just your presence and ‘being there’ makes a difference.
  • Speak-Up: The ‘Power of Voice’ is about shaping the agenda and being ‘thought leaders’. The example she gives of actively grading and giving students feedback on their participation in lessons both requires and supports each one of them to find and share their own voice. In this Key, she gives a clear definition of what ‘participation’ really means, where listening is absolutely integral to expressing your ‘voice’. She then illustrates the power this has by using the example of how a journalist’s ideas and his ability to use his voice to make suggestions about how to take action has created a ‘learning neighbourhood’ in Sao Paola and transformed the community.
  • Look-Up: To look up to a higher vision and clarify the principles that are needed to guide everybody. Leaders who do this are in a position to prevent what she refers to as ‘hollow leadership’. She gives a pragmatic, day-to-day application and description of what it means to live your ‘Vision and Values’ and what engaging in your ‘noble purpose’ really means. ‘Looking Up’ is all about deliberately designing and committing to giving everybody the space and time to discuss, clarify and revisit your shared purpose. Embedding the act of revisiting your vision and values as an organisational habit will, ‘lift the spirits like nothing else’. Only when this is in place can you be assured that your vision and values are genuinely lived in every part of your organisation.
  • Team-Up: ‘…nearly anything worth doing is very difficult to do alone’ and the best projects are those which have a ‘sense of partnership from the beginning’. To intentionally grow and deepen connections through partners who share your vision and values and draw them into your ‘nobler cause’ is highlighted as fundamental to the next step of deliberately aligning your partnerships, to develop and behave as ‘one big team’, to deliver your vision and values.
  • Never Give-Up (aka Kanter’s Law): Only by stopping will you fail. This Key is integral to delivering your ‘noble cause’. Being aware and genuinely ready to dig deep as individuals, as leaders, as whole-teams and as learning organisations is underpinned by the requirement to persist, be resilient and resolute all the way through the implementation dip(s) which she refers to as ‘the messy middle’. The time it takes to develop and design a project, shape and refine it, align partners around your vision, values  and purpose is time well invested.
  • Lift Others-Up: Sharing and giving back to others is fundamental to ensuring the Six Keys are part of a sustainable cycle of development, innovation and ensuring we can all be part of a system that makes a difference.

Here’s the Talk itself…

The Keys offer a great way to structure a modular leadership/ leading change development programme. The ‘6 Keys’ similarly provide a simple and practical framework ready to be adopted when assessing leadership competencies, mindsets and effectiveness. This framework could then be used to shape coaching conversations and programmes. I’m really interested in any thoughts and considerations for how they could be used in other contexts.

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…

Professor Dweck at TED earlier this year

This TED Talk by Professor Carol Dweck provides a good catch-all summary and introduction for anybody wanting to start doing some thinking around Growth Mindsets.

I’ll be adding this to the Core Professional Curriculum iTunesU course we have at school. This talk is only 10 minutes, so we’ll be using it as an introduction to the start of an EduBook Club Meeting. It also works well as a stimulus for a departmental meeting with a team wanting to undertake some subject-specific action research or a staff meeting in a smaller setting where you want to start focusing in on the big hitters such as motivation and engagement.

Here are just a few prompt questions I have posed in the past when using Ted Talks and other short videos and podcasts of educational thinkers in this way:

  • What do I know about the perceptions my pupils have of their own ability and how can I find out?
  • How does this relate to me, in my subject area, for the groups I teach?
  • How can I use the information from this research to refine my questioning to encourage pupils to refine, redraft and act on feedback?
  • In what ways does this prompt me to consider the way I design learning activities?
  • How does teacher-mindset influence verbal and written feedback?
  • How can we develop a shared language of learning that explicitly promotes the belief that learning is a developmental process?

Dweck’s earlier book, Self Theories is well worth a read (be warned, it’s quite pricey!) as it gets right into the different ways that pupils perceive their own ability, respond to praise, feedback and criticism, based on years of research undertaken by Dweck and her team.

A Pedagogical Model for Excellence & Growth

I have drawn together some ideas to form a first draft (very EoE) of a Pedagogical Model for Motivation, Growth Mindsets and Excellence. It also incorporates a Marginal Learning Gains approach as an integral part of developing Growth Mindsets for teachers and students alike.

This work is in its infancy in terms of a fully workable pedagogical model but I am hoping it my serve to start conversations and give practitioners some of the following:

  • The Why – Rationale and research to underpin the aims of the changes that are sought
  • The How – Strategic ways of thinking and designing learning to bring about those changes
  • The What – Practical tools and approaches to test out to increase the teaching repertoire to achieve your stated aims

It may will be that I need to provide the narrative that I would use to accompanies any work around this document if so, please let me know! I certainly see it as the start point for:

  1. Some very focused action research linking into the Marginal Learning Gains approach
  2. A design template for learning where we can truly wrap the curriculum around the pedagogy.

If you want to find out more about what schools are doing around Growth Mindsets, then please get in touch with the EG Schools Network via the blog and follow on Twitter @EG_Schools. There’s already a fantastic bank of ideas, blogs, resources and approaches being shared by the Excellence & Growth Schools’ Network,

In the meantime, I’ll be updating this in time once I’ve had a chance to collaborate and reflect on the model…so here it is:

EG Culture