Reading In Action

Category: Featured Book (Page 3 of 3)

Chapter Four: Mastery



There are two major points made in Chapter Four of How Learning Works (HWL).  Mastery is an important final stage of learning that requires specific teaching practices to ensure student achievement, and mastery as an instructor can leave us blind to the challenges students face on their own road to this goal.

HWL offers a four-stage model for progression towards mastery:

  1. unconscious incompetence
  2. conscious incompetence
  3. conscious competence
  4. unconscious competence

and three teaching modes for their attainment:

  1. component skills
  2. integration
  3. application

Application will be familiar to many instructors as the ‘transfer’ learning that we hope to see when students are able to apply concepts or skills learned in one context (typically, the classroom or lab) to a new context (hopefully, the real world).

This topic lends itself to both traditional academic disciplines and to trades and skill-based learning. Examples can be developed from both spheres, but perhaps there are differences in how this plays out in each context.

The implication for mastery in instructors is that having achieved the ‘unconscious competence’ stage, instructors have blind spots where they don’t realize that internalized steps or an intuitive ability to apply knowledge is perceived by learners as a black box, or not perceived at all. Options to alleviate this perceptual mismatch are offered in the “Strategies to Expose and Reinforce Component Skills” section of the chapter.

So What?

This chapter makes a strong case that supporting the path towards mastery is the key to deeper learning. An argument could be made that the ‘application’ stage is where professional fields like accounting, or general skills like critical thinking, make our graduates successful in their lives after graduation.

Now What?

As you think about this chapter, consider how it relates to your own teaching practice or the learning you have supported.

  1. Are these stages of learner achievement and the teaching modes that support their attainment, factors in your context? Where does the model fit and does it fall short in some aspect?
  2. If you have one, describe your own experience with a ‘blind spot’ as an instructor. How did you overcome it?

To encourage participation, those who share a comment/post this week will have their name entered into the Chapter Four draw for a $25 CAD gift certificate for Chapters Indigo. Read the contest guidelines here. Good luck!

The Book Club chat on Chapter Four will take place on Friday, Oct 12th at 10 AM PST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group. We also invite you to say hello in the Comments section of our Intro post.


Chapter One: How does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning?

What is the Principle?

Prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.

In Chapter One of How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (HLW), the authors delve into a look at the prior knowledge of learners and how it impacts learning. Prior knowledge (PK) can be a good foundation for building new knowledge, but research shows that student learning is influenced by the nature of the prior knowledge. Depending on a number of conditions, prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.

This diagram (re-created and adapted from the original in the book, Figure 1.1) shows the conditions for when prior knowledge helps or hinders learning.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 11.59.50 AM

Prior knowledge (PK) helps learning when it is activated. In addition, that PK needs to be sufficient, appropriate and, above all, correct.

Prior knowledge (PK) that is problematic or that hinders learning is one or more of the following:

  • Inaccurate: Some deeply held misconceptions are difficult to correct.
  • Insufficient: There are many kinds of knowledge such as declarative (what) , procedural (how), contextual (when) knowledge. Students’ PK may have gaps.
  • Inappropriate: Correct but used at wrong time or context.
  • Incorrect: Knowledge that is wrong.

So What? (What does this mean for how we teach? What does this mean for helping students learn?)

Many of us use techniques to bridge, integrate, and activate learners’ prior knowledge  with the new content we are teaching. But have we considered more closely, the nature of their prior knowledge and whether it is sufficient, appropriate, as well as, accurate?

The HLW authors offer a variety of strategies in Chapter One to help us identify possible problem areas in learners’ prior knowledge and how to proactively address them. Some of these strategies include student self-assessment questions, looking for patterns of error, identifying discipline-specific conventions for our learners, or having them conduct and test predictions based on what they currently know.

Now What? (Applying the Prior knowledge principle to our practice.)

Take a moment to reflect on your current teaching practice. Is there a common misconception about the subject you teach?  Share what that is and a strategy you use (or plan to use) to address this issue. To do this, simply subscribe to this blog and post in the Chapter One Comments. Alternatively, you may share your thoughts using social media with the hashtag #BookClubBC.

To encourage participation, those who share a comment/post this week will have their name entered into the Chapter One draw for a $25 CAD gift certificate for Chapters Indigo. Read the contest guidelines here. Good luck!

The Book Club chat on Chapter One will take place on Friday, September 14th at 10 AM PST.  Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group. We also invite you to say hello in the Comments section of our Intro post.

Looking forward to reading together and meeting you online!



Owl by Oksana Latysheva from the Noun Project
Suitcase from the HLW graphic by Giulia Forsythe


Welcome to the BCcampus Online Book Club!


Welcome all to this fall. There’s excitement in the air for it’s the beginning of a new season of learning for our post-secondary colleagues and students. This excitement for some of us is also due to anticipation of the launch of The BCcampus Online Book Club on September 10th.

Why a book club you might ask?  Our community of post-secondary educators wanted a vehicle to create collegial connections; something to support opportunities to learn with each other and share what we are doing in teaching and learning. The idea of a book club focused on teaching and learning professional development was sparked and began to take shape at a meeting at the Festival of Learning in Vancouver in May 2018. Wonderful volunteer facilitators came forward to help. Yes, people are keen to do this kind of activity, but there would be some key stipulations: it should be open; easy to participate in; and it must be fun!

For our first book, we’ve selected How Learning Works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching written by educators from Carnegie-Mellon University. First published in 2010, this book is “go-to” reading for those wanting to learn about what research says about how we learn and how it can inform our teaching practice.  A copy of this book should be easily available: you can borrow the book from most post-secondary teaching and learning centres or  libraries or purchase your own copy online.

Over the next several weeks, we invite you to read, reflect and share your thoughts and experiences in teaching  and learning through suggested book club activities: commenting on the blog, posting your stories on social media (#BookClubBC), and participating in the weekly web conference chats. We challenge you to apply some of the principles featured in each of the chapters if you’ve not already done so. We support you to participate in what interests you and you are able to do and to reach out for collegial wisdom should you need suggestions or have advice to contribute. We’ve built-in a few reading breaks for catching up as needed. (Check the schedule here.) Our hope is these learning moments will be starting points for deeper conversations on teaching and learning and the ideas we as educators care about.  In future, book selections will be driven by participants, so we invite you to hop onboard, get reading, and join us on this journey!

All the Best,

The BCcampus Online Book Club Facilitators

P.S. Please check out the Comments section!


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