My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

What does Nuthall really say about multiple exposures?

I made this table in 2014, it is based upon a now unsearchable document, namely the now illusive
"Nuthall, G. A. (2001a). Manual: Procedures for identifying the information content of student classroom experiences and predicting student learning."
If anyone has one lying around I would love a copy.

What is it? Well, these are the codes (albeit slightly incomplete, and slightly compiled from other Nuthall research documents) used by Nuthall and his fellow researchers to analyse the interactions students had with a concept. Their purpose was to allow them to predict if learning would occur based upon the "kinds" of interaction.Astonishingly they could oredict if learning would occur to an accuracy of 88%. This is to an extent that it will certainly do for me!

These may be a researcher’s tool, but they certainly illuminate a teachers understanding of how learning takes place, and as such are worthy of a little thought by teachers. It is indeed these research tools that presented us with the multiple exposure rule that if a concept is engaged with three or four times, depending upon the concepts difficulty and the students, then it will be learned. But they might tell us even more.

The codes are categorised into two types: A full set of information that is required for a concept to be learned, here coloured green. Sensationally the other category is a partial set of information that includes important information about the concept being learned.   Here these are shaded blue, and you will see that these are of several different forms. 

Full set of accessible information needed to learn a concept: picture, words.
The exact information that that students need to hear, read, see, discuss or use in an activity. Information that must be engaged with.

Students need the chance to identify and extract relevant information.

Any prior knowledge they express is very much part of this.

Partial set of information with some important parts about a concept.
As above, but just not the full information.

  • Chunked explanations.
  • Corrections to work.
  • Relevant prior knowledge that they express too.

Working out Information.
Information that can lead to an inference or deduction.

Implicit use of key terminology.

Concept use when teaching another concept.[??1] 
Background information

Such as:
  • definitions
  • analogies
  • examples
  • non-examples
  • personal experiences

Activities that lead to a full use/view of the information.

These activities are more than just reading, writing and talking about a concept.  

  • Science practical
  • Making a model

The information is clearly about the concept
Activities that lead to a partial use/view of the information.

These activities are more than reading, writing and talking, but in this case do not give the full information. This may be information that can be used to lead students to make inferences and deductions.

It must first be noted that students not gaining access to a full set of information is not the result of crap teaching. There are numerous valid, and beneficial reasons why we would not want to present everything all at once: complex ideas need breaking down, or we may be helping students think through the content via definitions, analogies,  examples and non-examples and so forth. This information provides students with useful background information so that they can work out the meaning of concepts through induction and deduction.

 The partial information works in different ways: sometimes it provides a context for the learning and potential sources of useful prior knowledge, and sometimes we give information that will allow students to work out what the concept is in a more direct way.

 Nuthall then pieced together through observation, and interviews when and how students interacted with or engaged with information about a concepts. This really is a marvel. As a teacher you rarely get to see where and when students actually interact with the ideas behind a concept, our classrooms are too busy, with too many students and too many ideas being learned (and forgotten) all at once. So this schematic view of it is certainly worth pondering the interactions our students take in a process of a lesson: When? Where?  How?  How many? First exposure? Second? Did they think? Did they infer? Did they copy? Of course this is impossible to know as much of the important interaction  hidden in the mind of the learner. 

Nuthall used the categorisations

  1. Full set of information FSI
  2. Partial set of information PSI
  3. Activity that leads to a full set of information ALF
  4. Activity that leads to a partial set of information ALP
  5. Back ground Information BI
  6. Working out Infromation WOI

 to work out what was needed for a concept to be learned as summarised in the next table.

Interaction/ Exposure number
Additional information
Learned occurs with

Only four required
Learned occurs with
Only four required.
Any one of the blue.
Learned occurs with
Any combination of blue .
Learned occurs with
any combination of blue.
Learned occurs with
And any combination.
Learned occurs with
And any combination.
Nuthall himself said “ Provided a student is able to piece together, in working memory, the equivalent of three complete definitions or descriptions of a concept, that new concept will be constructed as part of the students long term memory” From the table It suggest that four  Full sets of information (FSI) will do the job, as will three provided there is an additional set of partial information.

If there is less than two full sets of information then students will require a total of five interactions with partial information sets.

This makes it essential for teachers to be aware what a full set of information may look like. This is difficult to achieve for every fact and idea you want students to learn.  Ergo, I do not think this is a planning tool, but a key piece of pedagogical content knowledge that will help us plan better teaching sequences.
 This research primarily suggests some useful planning suggestions. So that for learning to take place, students must:
  • interact with a full explanation of concept at least once.
  • interact with the information on at least four separate occasions.
 and that:
  • the more often they interact with the full picture the better for their learning.
  • perhaps breaking down concepts is not always the best strategy as more exposures will be needed for learning to occur for each of the smaller parts and then for the big idea you intended to teach.
  • related information can be deduced, collated and learned from many pieces of information.
  • we have to remember that, no matter how much we manage knowledge, we are entirely reliant upon students engaging with it!
The importance of a full set of information is problematic for teachers as We instinctively strive to break down immense potential complexity into neat, bite-sized chunks appropriate for student consumption. Sadly, this well-intentioned process may not actually benefit student learning; as the most effective teaching activities are often linked to big questions or ideas. This is probably best defined by David Perkins who, in his book “Making Learning Whole”, labels the breaking down of learning into small chunks, rather tongue in cheekly,  as a disease, naming it ‘elementisis’. The problem with elemetisis is that students never get to join the elements back together after they have been broken down for them, so that they may see how the knowledge works as part of a whole.

 Graham Nuthall 2007 The Hidden Lives of Learners NZCER page 127.
 Graham Nuthall Vol. 99, No. 4 (Mar., 1999), pp. 303-341 The Elementary School Journal The Way Students Learn: Acquiring Knowledge from an Integrated Science and Social Studies Unit
David Perkins - making Learning Whole 

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