Reply To: Knowing The Learner Chapter 2 Review

A Renewal of Education Forums Active Conversations Knowing The Learner Chapter 2 Review Reply To: Knowing The Learner Chapter 2 Review

Paul Zachos

Hi Patrick,

I like the way Monica selected portions of your review and commented on them. I will do the same. Also, I like the fact that you start with an expression of your feelings concerning your reading. It gives an added flavor to the review.

In general my reaction to the criticisms that you have leveled is that they are valid and point to substantial improvements that could be made in the book. These should be considered if anyone wishes to update the book or carry its points further

Let’s start with:

“I have no idea what the chart on page 17 was supposed to mean and it just confused me.”

This confusion is entirely my doing. I just wanted to give a flavor of what someone would find in Johnson’s Intentionality in Education. I must admit I have a tendency to place puzzles, anomalies and mysteries in the things that I write. My co-author Wil Doane is innocent regarding this particular example.

“What is the example in “Make it Stick”? I understand it has something to do with a hunter and a doctor, but don’t see how that applies to the discussion of skills and how they relate to concepts.”

I am afraid that the whole section on the distinction between concepts, skills and dispositions is too highly abbreviated. A book could be devoted to this distinction and its significance for curriculum. The references to Brown et al (“Make it Stick”) and to Inhelder and Piaget are meant to lead the reader to works that have addressed the point in greater depth. Waldorf Educators have a simple, concrete way to make this distinction; they talk about head, hand and heart, respectively. The important point is that if we concentrate on only one or two of these two types of capabilities, we are not educating the full person. In general ,our mainstream educational institutions focus on learning goals that target knowledge (concepts), less so skills and only very slightly, dispositions. This is particularly true regarding the assessment of these capabilities. Many new initiatives are appearing in the field of educationfocused on social emotional learning are targeting what we call dispositions.
“Why do we use learning goals instead of intended learning outcomes? This chapter specifically touched upon the importance of precise and consistent language.”

‘Intended learning outcomes’ for me gets the idea across effectively. But it is too much of a mouthful and has a very technical feel to it. ‘As long as the idea of ILOs is grasped then ‘learning goals’ serves as a precise equivalent in ordinary and familiar language.

“Artistic aptitude is listed as an innate trait, which I wholeheartedly disagree with. Artistic aptitude is more of a learned skill, just as much as aptitude with typing or open mindedness. One could make an argument that there are no traits beyond the strictly physical. Is extroversion not a combination of valuing social interaction, habits of being talkative and open, etc… You mention that there are no hard and fast boundaries, but I would argue that there are no real boundaries at all. Looking over this I would not be able to define whether something was a trait or disposition.”

I see enough problems with our presentation to not want to push the case further at this point. Thank you for the clarifications you have offered.


“The example with cubes and liquids helped me understand concepts, skills and dispositions more after initial confusion.”
Yay! Cubes & Liquids saves the day again!


“Instruction can be thought of the artistic function in education” – According to the earlier statement, wouldn’t that make an aptitude for teaching be a trait rather than a disposition?

More problems with our distinctions. Thank you for pointing them out.

“Education is not what teachers do, it’s what the student learns” – I like this quote a whole lot, it’s one of those short phrases that really packs a punch and gives a great overview of what we are doing.

To be more precise I would say that education IS what teachers do, but only when they are acting to help students attain learning goals. ‘What the student learns’ is the outcome of education but only when educational activities have been successful. Thank you, Mauritz Johnson, for helping me to see how to think clearly about these things.

“I would reorder “The Contexts of Educational Activities” to Settings, Programs, Activities, Events since that more closely matches their relations. The current order seems mismatched”

I would like to learn more about why you find the original order mismatched.


The Idea of organizing the review around Feelings, Questions and Problems, as you did has been very productive from my point of view. I would like to encourage its continuation.