Learning: making the implicit explicit

My colleagues, Chad and Glenn, and I were not feeling very good about our teaching and learning at the start of the week. We felt that our students were confused and that our teaching had recently become a series of disconnected activities. We felt that our students would probably not be able to tell anyone why they were doing the things they were doing. We felt that they were not learning with intention, or behaving with an intention to learn.

The worst thing was… we felt that it was all our fault.

Since then, we have really tried to help our students to understand the value of what they are doing, to be able to see the learning in everything they do and to be able to see how their behaviours have an impact on learning.

Here is how we are trying to do that.

In my class, we have adopted a “mantra”. Either before, during or after doing anything… we ask ourselves these two questions. The effect has been profound and, after just a couple of days, students are able to see the value in the things that we do – as long as there is value to them!!!


In Glenn’s class, they have been discussing what teachers and students will “look like” when involved with learning. They have then been going back to this at the end of a session and asking themselves if they were doing those things and what may or may not have prevented them from doing so.


In Chad’s class, they have been picking apart the things they do by asking “where is the learning?” and Chad has really been expecting the kids to look “beyond the obvious” and to share their thinking on large rolls of paper which are then displayed in the room.

We are making the implicit explicit, making sure we can always answer these questions, making sure there is always value to the things we do and making sure the students can see the purpose and value in the things they do each day. Learning can only become more powerful, and students will hopefully become increasingly independent learners.

I think the three of us should end the week feeling a bit better about ourselves as teachers than we did at the start of the week.



  1. Megan

    To making the implicit explicit

    It was very comforting reading this blog and knowing that sometimes other teachers are really going through the same thing as you. Recently I have felt like my activities have been disconnected and that the children did not really understand why we were doing them. I have now taken a step back, and really looked at what I am teaching and how. How can I ensure the children understand what it is they are learning?
    I have started using alot more questioning, similar to above, What are we doing? Why do you think we are doing it? I believe these are crucial questions to pose to the children and for them to ask themselves, to ensure our teaching is explicit teaching!
    I have noticed, just over the last few weeks, that the children have become more interested and reflective, where their learning is involved.
    I loved reading this blog and seeing the lovely things you are doing. I particularly like the “where is the learning” activity! Might use this one myself.
    Well done, keep the ideas coming – good luck!! 🙂


    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks for your comments, Megan. I am really glad that you found someone else (three people actually!) going through the same struggles as you. Often, finding out that people are having the same problems as you can be much more powerful than being told about well someone is doing something!

  2. Hailey Joubert

    Hi Sam,
    I feel so reassured and relieved by your honesty. A big focus for us this year has been to make the learning and thinking explicit. I love the tools you guys have created. At times I have tried similar things which have worked to varying degrees. I know I haven’t been consistent enough and after reading your post I feel inspired!



    • Mr. Sam

      Hi Hailey,

      Yes, I agree. The main thing is to remember to keep on doing these things. A “mantra” is only a “Mantra” if you repeat it!

      Let’s keep each other honest and check up on each other in a few months to see if we’re still doing it… if we remember to check up on each other!!!


  3. Sudha rakesh

    I very much like the idea of making implicit teaching explicit; I can think of prompts to get answers for ‘what are we learning’ ‘why are we learning it’ but for the question ‘ where is the learning?’ what are some of the answers that you get.

    • Mr. Sam

      Well, Chad has used that question in order to get kids to be able to identify the learning involved, to be able to point to it, describe it and refer to it. Students refer to to things people may have seen them doing, evidence in their work, evidence of improved skills and so on.

  4. Rubi

    Hi Sam and Hailey, It is absolutely true that sometimes some learning experiences becomes activities, if we ask the questions it will help the students and us. There are some things, from which, we as teachers have learnt a lot but the students could not connect. At the present moment we are working on aboriginal identity and an Elder came for a presentation. I felt I learnt a lot but it seems like the kids were not that engaged but they were respectful. I would have loved it even if they were confused.

    • Mr. Sam

      Hmmm… that is a tricky one isn’t it? I wonder why they were not engaged? Have you tried asking them why they met and talked to an Aboriginal elder at this time in their lives? Perhaps having that conversation beforehand may have helped them in this situation. “You are about to meet and talk to an Aboriginal Elder. Why do you think you’re doing that now? What might you learn from this experience?”. These conversations will, I think, start to give students a greater sense of the value of all learning experiences.

  5. Sonya terBorg

    Great post. I think everyone wants to know WHY. It is that basic question that parents will tell you kids will ask to the point of exhaustion – why should they (or we) stop doing that? We use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle to help this process sometimes. The outer circle gives you the chance to say WHAT you are doing (writing, listening, creating, drawing). The next circle asks you to consider HOW you are doing it (collaboratively, carefully, thoughtfully, excitedly…). The final circle then asks WHY. Why do you do what you do, the way that you do it? What is your purpose? Great examples from the three of you – a perfect example of how “the same” can look different dependant on the teacher in the room. Thanks so much for sharing – and say hi to Glenn from me!

    • Mr. Sam

      Love it… thanks so much. I kept meaning to watch his TED Talk and never got around to it. His model is exactly what is needed, thanks!

  6. Pingback: First Week of School… Check! « scareythoughts
  7. Pingback: Learning: making the implicit explicit | Critic...

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s