#Deepen Teacher Inquiry - Hack No 16

Gaining Insight Through Noticing.

Did you know that the latest research shows that 50% of school leavers in NZ do not have levels of literacy and numeracy to feel successful in the 21C workspace? What an incredibly disturbing statistic. In order to change this, a vital difference needs to be made around teaching literacy and numeracy for our school-aged learners.

Recently I attended a Ministry of Education professional learning day focused on the learning progression framework for reading, writing and maths. One of the key points I took away from this event, to paraphrase, is that there is a need for teachers to make insightful judgements around the learning level of their students. Having a full understanding of how to utilise the framework assists them in making decisions about how best to support the next steps in learning. 

Following this event, I reflected on the work that I am involved in within schools. A lot of the coaching and mentoring I do with teachers is based around the decisions they make concerning the pedagogies they use in their classrooms, and considering the impacts these decisions have on their students learning. 

 is an integral part of the process of exploring student learning. The learning process is about activating prior knowledge and building connections between old and new knowledge to make meaning.

Observing vs Noticing.

 Noticing is not just taking a curious glance at a room of learners and drawing some conclusions; this is merely observing. Noticing with insight is about being curious and really looking at the learning which is happening in the room.

Simply observing leads to all sorts of assumptions in which we can be inclined to make judgements. How would it be if we stayed curious long enough to check those assumptions and seek greater understanding?

One of the critical components of my work in schools with leaders and leaders of learning is around pedagogy and learning. This work focuses on approaching something differently in order to get different results. I show them how to use questioning thinking to explore and gain insight into how students learn. We focus on gaining insight in ways that assessment data doesn't, and this enables leaders of learning to make powerful decisions about the learning strategies they are designing.

As leaders of learning, we are making judgments all day, every day. These judgements inform the planning and learning support structures that are used in lessons. Traditionally we have used data to make judgements. This data is generated through platforms such as e-asTTle, GloSS & IKAN tests and assessments to form our views about our learners and their learning.

However, data only tells us so much. We need to enquire further into learning to really know what is going on, to better gain insight into our learners and their learning. So, rather than just observing, how do we go about exploring deeper to discover more about our learners? We need to superpower our process of noticing and paying attention to our learners while they focus on the task of learning.

Let's unpack what great noticing is.

There are three dimensions to learning - cognitive, social and emotional. So, to truly notice deeply requires us to consider all three dimensions. The below looks at what that actually means.

The Cognitive Dimension of Learning 

The cognitive dimension of learning is all about thinking. Traditionally we measured our learners' cognitive capability through assessments and testing. These measure procedural ability, which is the ability to perform at the right moment. What these do not measure is the significant points in learning and how learners make that learning happen. They measure what learning has happened, but not how it has occurred. We need to gain insight into how learning is happening to make the right decisions about how to best support our learners.

So, to superpower the noticing of thinking, we need to approach this differently. Noticing with a difference is about how we question our learners about their learning. It is this questioning that brings clarity around how learners are connecting concepts to make meaning, and how they are thinking. So, we look at the thinking steps they go through to build new knowledge and the questions that scaffold and support learners to articulate their learning and their thinking. 

So, noticing is about encouraging dialogue with learners about their learning; it is not about seeing in silence.

9 October - Noticing (1).jpg

The Social Dimension of Learning

The social dimension of learning is the interactional elements of learning; the way learning is enabled by thinking together and doing the work together. We learn better when we discuss our thinking with others. We can bounce ideas off each other and use insights to build on our thinking and understanding to make new meaning. Learning is not a siloed, individual experience, and it cannot happen in silence. Learning is deepened through interaction with others, so we need to acknowledge the social element of learning.

The social dimension of learning is a focus on how our learners are interacting with others within the learning process. When we notice, we are exploring and looking for what interactions are accelerating learning and how these social interactions enable learning. We need to ask ourselves, what does successful learning through social interactions look like? What will we see happening, and what will the learners be doing?

The Emotional Dimension of Learning

The emotional dimension of learning is looking at how learners feel during and about their learning. Noticing the emotional aspect of learning is about looking at the signposts of emotion, reading the room and using empathy to gain an understanding of how our learners are learning. 

What do we notice? 

How do our learners feel about their learning? 

How will we know? 

What does it look like to feel good about learning? 

So, now we know what to look for, and what we need to notice, we can make meaning of what we are noticing.

"Empathy is not connecting to an experience. Empathy is connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience" Brene Brown, Dare to Lead.

Empathy is required to have a powerful learning conversation. Insightful noticing of learning is when the educator thinks about the learning process. They are connected to their learners and use empathy to identify what they notice about their learners and their learning. 

If we unpack what empathy looks like in a noticing context, there are specific behaviours that sit within the emotional dimension of learning. I created the acronym EMPATHY below which defines the behaviours of the emotional dimension of learning and noticing. Noticing for the emotional dimension is about looking for the following things happening in the classroom.

E - Emotion Centred

Looking for and being aware of emotion in our learners. Recognising the behaviours that manifest as a result of the kinds of emotions our learners may be feeling.

M - Making Sense

Making sense of what our learners are feeling.

P – Partnership

Building relationships with our learners so that they feel safe to show emotion in the classroom and to talk about how they feel about their learning.

T – Trust

The building of trust is a vital component to notice the emotional aspects of learning. We must spend time building trust between ourselves and our learners and between our learners and each other.

H - Hearing and Seeing

Noticing what is happening. What is it that you hear and see when taking note of and noticing the emotional aspect of learning?

Y - You and Me

The emotional dimension of learning is about noticing how we work together in learning. The focus is on observing how we interact with each other and how we feel about these interactions.

Triangulating our Noticing and Making Insightful Judgements of Learning Signposts.

Noticing is something that happens over time. It is not a spur of the moment judgement or measurement that is indicative of traditional assessment methods. To accurately assess outcomes, we must notice over a period of time.

Insightful noticing is about noticing across all three dimensions of learning. We need to be mindful of our learners learning in more ways than just the data. That is why effective noticing is vital in making effective and efficient overall teacher judgements. 

Staying curious and using questioning thinking allows teachers to explore and gain insight into learning in ways that assessment data doesn't allow. We must make meaning of what we are noticing. It is vital to acknowledge all three dimensions of learning - cognitive, social and emotional. When making overall teacher judgements, derived from our noticing, we need to triangulate across these three dimensions.

Out of the noticing comes the ability to make powerful decisions about what next, decisions about how we can design learning that meets the needs of our learners. When we identify where learners are at on the way to mastering particular skills and dispositions, we are then able to provide appropriate support for our learners. 

If you would like to find out more about what I do or how I may be able to help at your school, please feel free to get in touch today.

Nga mihi.



Brown, B. (2018) Dare to Lead. New York: Random House.

On My Reading List

Borja, C. (2019) The brain, emotions and learning. Retrieved from https://theeducationhub.org.nz

Illeris, Knud.  The Three Dimensions Of Learning.  Krieger Publishing Company, September 2004.

Illeris, Knud. The Three Dimensions Of Learning. Krieger Publishing Company, September 2004.

From the Archives


Empathy Mapping & Ideating While you Explore

"No thought is ever complete until it's written down."
Col Fink -Thought Leaders Business School

The Cognitive Theory Behind Empathy Mapping and Ideation

Write, Draw, Speak......

Empathy Mapping and Ideation are methods which enable us to represent our ideas in different ways so we can explore and deepen our thinking.

During the Empathy Mapping process, we write down all our ideas and thoughts about student learning. We then utilise this data in the Ideation process, where we draw our ideas, visualising our thinking through the process.

Why do we do this? Drawing engages different parts of our brain than writing does. When drawing, we create a visual representation of what we think. Once we do this, we can see it with greater clarity and better identify other aspects of our ideas. This process creates a pathway to deeper thinking.


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