What are Learning Frameworks?

Underneath good learning lie invisible structures. Learning Frameworks provide a mindset and structure to help make the invisible, visible.

Looking at a house, we don’t see the foundation, frames, and joists that the walls are built upon. Watching my son’s soccer game, I realized that because I didn’t have direct experience with soccer, it was harder for me to appreciate and follow the action taking place before me. However, watching a dance performance, I can readily see the patterns of movement, and my body almost feels the movements (mirror neurons, anyone?) because it has experienced and studied it more fully.

Examples like these remind me of a frequently overlooked component for good learning: Making the invisible, visible. Like a house, good learning is built on an unseen foundation and framework, that may reveal itself to some learners only with explicit, direct instruction. Learners need to hold an imprint of the framework to reliably build their own knowledge onto it in an organized way. Like soccer or dance, learning is best supported by having authentic, connected experiences where underpinnings are linked to the senses. By making the invisible system apparent, the learning takes on new dimension and its full form. Frameworks draw on tried and true models, building in multi-sensory methods and explicit instruction to make visible the invisible part of learning.

On the receptive side, many of my students struggled with tackling how to break the code of reading, not seeing the beautiful, complex, and in large part, reliable, system that lies beneath. On the expressive side, I noticed many of my learners have excellent knowledge and a lot to share, yet cannot find a process and structure to lay these ideas down in print for various reasons connected to the structure of the writing system. In both cases, once the patterns and systems are more explicitly revealed, a sense of progress and system for learning is underway. Framework strategies are the mindset I use to teach in layers over time, to build a foundation and walls that students can use independently to apply their new knowledge or expressive ideas. Good layered instructional strategies provide the joists and studs of good learning so that they last a long time – across content areas and developmental stages. Making these invisible structures visible to learners as a reliable process fosters a foundation for success in lifelong skill building.

Learning Frameworks has become a lens I try to notice while looking at the world – paying attention to the story and process about how something came to be – whether it is a program or an object. Connecting to a narrative, a visual, and one’s own imagination create a direct connection between new information and existing neural pathways, to build a memory and organize thoughts as they form. What are the origins for this public art? How does this new word connect to a word I already know? Thinking this way is a practice that then informs how to define the invisible process that allows something to come to be. Through models, a program, or a system, learners can go from not knowing to knowing. Educators can articulate and model these intangible, underlying structures to support students on their journey of “Not Yet” – that uncomfortable in-between phase of being introduced to something but not yet having fully learned it.

Bearing this in mind, I look for strategies that can add an organized, systematic structure and practice. I seek frameworks that can be used again and again as learners grow and are expected to handle increasingly complex knowledge, as their executive function skills are trained.

Frameworks can be visual, concrete, kinesthestic, narrative, or musical to connect to multiple modalities for increased retention. They are adjustable in concert with the individual learners, so that the learners participate in making the image or story of the structure connect to their own, lending their individual point-of-view to the process. By offering categories to encode learning, well-structured frameworks can ease retrieval from memory. They are taught explicitly, with direct instruction and dependable across content areas. Importantly, they should be designed to reinforce the perpetual development of solid executive function skills. (To read more on executive function, here is a nice overview.)

Now as I look on at my son soccer’s game, I try to create a framework for myself to see the invisible shapes, boundaries, and lines that underlie the rule and movement of the game, as if it’s on a screen where the movement of players are marked by trained sportscasters. And I always pause to watch a house that is being built, marveling at the expertise of the construction that can make a structure that will be called upon to handle weight and weather, in addition to encasing the lives and experiences of families who will dwell there for many years to come. Though I can’t always see how the frameworks for learning hold up in time as my students develop and move on, I strive to guide them to developing a strong foundation during their time with me, that will serve as a platform for a lifetime of organized learned material.

For more examples, this web site page shares other components.