Modelling learning, unlearning and relearning in large classes

Claire Blackman, Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, UCT

Presentation at the SANRC First Year Experience (FYE) conference, Johannesburg 24- – 26 May 2017

Context: Claire teachers first year commerce students who do not necessarily want to do maths.

Alvin Toffler quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Change is a way of life but adapting to change is hard and people are not very good at it. We have to learn how to learn and relearn and unlearn.

How I teach is more important than the content.

The world needs people who own and learn from their mistakes and think before responding.

Two useful models:

  1. Krathwohl’s taxonomy (published by Bloom) for thinking about the individual
  2. Group therapy to get students in an emotional comfortable space

Krathwohl’s taxonomy of the affective domain can help to see if students are learning

  1. Living (Integrating values into life)
  2. Organising
  3. Valuing
  4. Responding
  5. Receiving

A group analytic framework

  • Environment (psychological structure, class boundaries)
    • Students and teachers need to feel safe
  • Process (how is the class run)
  • Content
    • Maths
    • Tools for dealing with fear and uncertainty e.g. fluffy dragons for students to hug when they are feeling uncertain. Students holding a dragon have put up hands to say “I don’t understand.” E.g. taking 2 minutes to do mindfulness breathing before the lecture. Research shows this reduces the fight or flight mode in the brain. You don’t have to go deeply into meditation.
    • Tools for thinking before responding
    • Tools for identifying, owning and learning from mistakes e.g. talking to students when I make a mistake. It can be scary for students to see their ‘expert’ is fallible.

John Hattie’s book on Influences on Learning

  1. Student expectation of self
  2. Teacher credibility in the eye of students
  3. Feedback (from students to teacher is most NB)
  4. Teacher-student relationships


At the start, know student’s state of mind/heart and pre-knowledge. E.g. are they anxious because of an economics test.

At the end, know student’s state of mind/heart, what current knowledge they have, what next.

How to get feedback:

  • Just ask!
  • Body language, glazed eyes
  • Show of hands / thumbs hidden from peers
  • Walk around and observe in-class work
  • 1 -2 -4 sharing of work
  • Index cards for writing clearest and muddiest points
  • OLS quiz
  • Tools like

What to do with feedback? Model my learning, relearning, that it’s ok not to know the answer, that mistakes are friends.

How to do this and still cover the syllabus?

  • Hand-write notes and solutions
  • Extra notes online
  • Online quizzes
  • Week 1: get to class 5 min early
  • Week 2: Same as week 1 and give one question and see how they are doing
  • Week 3: Same as week 2 and index card with clearest and muddiest point in each class

It can be exhausting and exhilarating. When students feel you care about their emotional well-being, they are more with you.

Best experience: on a bad teaching day, students said “We think you should take a moment to breathe.”

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