Do our classrooms use all options to enable students to create meaning?


A version of this post originally appeared on my website:


Embodied Cognition would appear to to moving our understanding of cognition and the creation of meaning beyond purely what is happening in the mind. However in school’s we still emphasise that the way that meaning is created is through inner contemplation outwardly expressed and supported by language.
Whilst this outlook of teaching an learning is perfectly valid; we set students a problem, give them time to think about it (either individually or collaboratively) and then ask them to express their responses either verbally or in some written form, should it be the only way we are empowering our students to create meaning?
The image above is one I created for my recent webinar for the IB ‘Beyond passive consumption’ (the archive of which is still available for viewing). In a very simple form it reflects the elements that we all use to create deep enduring meaning these being:

  1. Language: By this I mean a broad range of literacies (see my previous blog post)
  2. Mind: By this I mean the internal thinking that is going on. (obviously what is meant by the term thinking is a huge area and one explored for educators via the Visible Thinking work of Project Zero)
  3. Tools: By this I refer to the important interplay between the tools used, be these digital or manual, and the meaning we create. A good example of this being the image at the top of the page itself which uses a Powerpoint template image thus making me synthesis my thinking into the available template.
  4. Body: By this I refer to both the use of our body to learn, e.g. using our hands to build but also the impact of our bodies reactions to our creation of meaning e.g. whether we are stressed, tired, relaxed etc.

As mentioned above School’s tend to do a good job at using points 1 and 2 to help students to create meaning however by under utilising, and in some cases under valuing, points 3 and 4 are only tapping into half the means at their disposal to empower are students to create deep meaning.

To place this in a context. How do we move our classrooms from being constructiovist  to being constructionist.

Here then are a few, hopefully useful and practical ideas as to how we can more fully exploit Tools and Body to ensure all students have a full range of ways to create meaning.

In a previous post  on my own website, I discussed why so many educational technologies have failed to live up to the expectations surrounding them. In this post I proposed 3 P’s to ensure that the tools used in a classroom have the maximum impact on learning:

1) What do I hope the tool will achieve in terms of my students learning?(PURPOSE)
2)How am I going to make critical pedagogical decisions about the use of the tool? (PEDAGOGY)
3)How will I ensure my own knowledge of tool,pedagogy and my curriculum enables me to choose the correct tool to achieve my aims? (PREPARATION)

Often one or more of these 3 is missing as we choose the tool through which we want the students to create meaning. Indeed it is often ignored that the tool itself is impacting the meaning that is being created.

Kath Murdoch in her excellent new book The Power of Inquiry makes the following  point:“(Inquiry teachers) see the learner as an active participant in the learning process. While the term ‘active’ relates to being physically active and having opportunities to engage in direct, hands on experiences it is vital that it is also understood in a cognitive sense”  This link between the body and cognition is a vital one to make if we are not to fall into the trap of lots of busy work justified on the grounds that students are using their hands or moving around. We need to be actively aware of how student cognition may be impacted by the ability to manipulate real world objects and set up out classrooms accordingly. Students need to have access to a range of manipulative what ever their age range and be encouraged to build and experiment as part of the learnign process.

The second element when thinking of body is student awareness of their own bodily state and its impact of their learning. Do we allow students the power to make meaningful decisions on when they need to move around, stand or sit to help with their learning whilst being considerate of the learning of others?
This is a complex area in terms of classroom management and layout but one that requires more careful consideration in many setting rather than an assumption that sitting is always the best position for learning.

I look forward to reader comments as to how we can ensure that all of our students are fully engaged in developing meaning using all 4 areas I’ve outlined. Or indeed if people feel there are other areas that need consideration.

About derekpinchbeck

I am currently the Elementary Principal ISS International School Singapore. My website is and twitter @DerekPinchbeck
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2 Responses to Do our classrooms use all options to enable students to create meaning?

  1. kathmurdoch says:

    Thanks for the mention Derek! Have you read Guy Claxton’s “Intelligence in the Flesh?” – I think you’d like it 🙂


  2. My pleasure Kath. Thanks for the information about the Guy Claxton book. I really enjoyed reading New Kinds of Smarts (Claxton and Lucas) and will add this one onto my summer reading list.


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