Teaching by concentrating on unlearning

In a post Unlearning as Learning Outcome on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog, Barbara Glesner Fines discusses the idea that the most effective way teachers can help students learn is through identification of the misunderstandings that they need to ‘unlearn’ in order to grasp the subject.    It’s an interesting way to think about assessment – that it is not only for assessing student understanding, but also for probing for areas of misunderstanding that might persist or reappear across  sections of a cohort, and that can then be explicitly overcome by changing the way the course is taught.

Alex Steel



One thought on “Teaching by concentrating on unlearning

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  1. Hi Alex

    Great article and one that highlights for me the idea that there are many methodologies in teaching out there and as teachers we need to be willing to analyse and utilize them to strive towards best practice. I think that some teachers find the idea of learning outcomes a bothersome task that has no direct relevance to their overall system of teaching. They see them as a bureaucratic hurdle that must be leaped over at the beginning of each semester. I have the opposite view. I think that they should be the start point of any thinking about teaching. If the learning outcomes are “targeted, concrete, measurable,and active’ then the setting up of the rest of the course becomes fairly easy. Using Wiggins and McTighe’s backwards design in their book Understanding by Design, mentioned in the article (of which I have a copy of at my desk if anyone wants to borrow), the teacher can step through the process of setting the outcomes, building the assessments that prove attainment of the outcomes and then building the activities ( classroom and online) that give the students ample practice in getting successfully to the outcomes. If feedback loops are also built into this system then it becomes very effective. In this kind of system the outcomes become the central focus and everything is built around successfully attaining the outcomes. Was it Benjamin Franklin who said ‘give me six hours to cut a tree down and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe’. I think the learning outcomes should be where the thinking about teaching happens and the other ‘two hours’ is spent building the activities and surrounding learning structures. I think if the following statement from the article is also critical.

    “Assessment is not an end-point, a box to be checked, reported and forgotten, but is an iterative process of discovery and experiment that drives students and faculty learning alike”.

    If we can see assessment as part of the feedback mechanism that not only supports the students in their learning but also informs the teachers of the success (or not) of their course, then we will be in a kind of teaching/learning utopia.
    Anyway some thoughts on the subject on a Wednesday morning.


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