In the previous blog post, I laid out the major issues with the traditional and progressive approaches – please read it if you wish to understand the background of this one (this is the second post in a 3-part series).

I want to further clarify some points mentioned before as they provoked the most heated debates on Twitter or they seemed somewhat unclear to some teachers.

*CLICK on each picture and it will enlarge.

Skills vs. knowledge

*I gave examples from math and language, but if you think of any other subject you could find that these are true – even in complex subjects such as Physics children have some background knowledge of some form – factual, procedural, conceptual – although it is basic or erroneous (e.g. gravity – they know things fall, they experienced it in the real world). Children are not blank slates at all – they have conceptions and misconceptions about the world around them.

“Transferable skills”

Skills DO NOT transfer because they are:

  1. Domain-specific
  2. Dependent on knowledge
  • Any skill is developed within a particular domain which is why an expert mathematician is not a brilliant historian. Each domain of human knowledge is governed by its own metalanguage, tools, resources, and specific ways of approaching the content. This is more and more evident as hyper-specialization accelerates in our times.
  • Moreover, even within the *same* domain (say, health care) skills do not transfer – a brilliant neurosurgeon is not a great immunologist nor a good gastroenterologist. Closer to our discussion, the very same student can master a strand in math (say, Geometry) but might have a hard time with another (Algebra); s/he may write an excellent news article following the genre-specific structure and features but finds it hard to analyze a Shakespearean play and to write an essay on it.
  • For more on transfer you can read my other posts, more general here or focused on mathematics here.

“Multiple Intelligences” and other Education-Myths

I already blogged about them here (Myths in Education or How Bad Teaching Is Encouraged) so do read the post if you wish to understand how so many fads and gimmicks permeated the education world from the famous “cone of learning” to “multiple intelligences” and “learning styles”. I just linked the post here as a teacher on another platform asked about a projects and performances list that I shared a few days ago and wondered if they relate to…learning styles.

Memory and Learning

Efrat Furst’s diagrams are self-explanatory and I invite you to follow her on Twitter or on her blog. With her background in cognitive-neuroscientific research (memory and human learning), she is absolutely brilliant in making visual the complex process of learning, of constructing understanding, and of making meaning. It is one of my favorite blogs not only for its clarity but also for the practical solutions she gives to teachers in order to make the teaching-learning process better.


Proxies for Learning 

  • Professor Robert Coe (Director of Research and Development at Evidence Based Education) summarized them in a chart and it is worth thinking about our own lessons and scan them with an eye towards what actually counts as learning: POOR Proxies for Learning.

  • I also focused on what cognitive work *is not* to start thinking about the impact of low-level and apparently engaging activities have on student learning (I am @surreallyno on Twitter).

Critical Thinking 

*It is also worth noting that John Hattie (Professor at University of Melbourne) and whose work influenced many progressive teachers has come to mention that,

It is essential for us as teachers in either system (progressive or traditional) to recognize the limitations of each and change some of our teaching practices in light of so much evidence and research out there. Hirsch himself decried the increased polarization of the two more than twenty years ago,

The best analogy I can think of when it comes to education is that of a bridge:

  • *any* bridge requires knowledge of PHYSICS in order to not collapse
  • however, once these basic principles are followed, bridges can vary in terms of AESTHETICS & CONTEXT (type of material used, anticipated stress level of traffic, weather, soil conditions etc.). Likewise, in our teaching, regardless of the approach we use (traditional or progressive) we need to be aware of the basic, general constraints of how learning occurs in human beings. Only afterwards we can adapt according to our context – age group, school culture, relative level of resources in school etc.

What does that mean in terms of us as teachers? I think the three pillars in developing as teachers and growing our expertise are the following:

Now, getting back to our main thread – how we could plan and assess learning, I hope I linked enough evidence and blog posts to give you a pause for thought, regardless of the “side” of the education spectrum, traditionalist or progressive.

  • To answer the first question from the previous blog, “What is the best representation of learning if it is NOT linear, concentric, spiral, or hierarchical?” I suggest the DNA model (see below).

Why does it make more sense and help avoid the limitations of the previous ones? For several reasons:

The full scale of learning I tried to map below (I wish I had a graphic designer to help but for the time being it will do). If you apply this model to your own subject you would notice how the learning of various facts, skills, and concepts becomes increasingly complex (horizontally) and difficult (vertically).


  • The second question, “How does this help us in our planning and assessment practically?” has as answer the model that I have been using for years, KNOW-DO -UNDERSTAND.

In the next blog post, the last in the 3-part series, I will give examples of how to plan effectively based on this model. I will show examples from my own practice as well as identify potential pitfalls when planning. I hope that despite being a rather long post I managed at least to make you consider some aspects I elaborated on above and, maybe, begin to think of your own practice. Whether you will change anything about it or not, I think it is always beneficial so see how others in the profession approach it and thus refine our own understanding. Thank you for reading (if you survived so many words and visuals!).

%d bloggers like this: