Connecting understanding, learning and performance pre-view



Earlier this week on Clyde Street, I discussed coach learning.
In this post, I look at some of the scaffolding that might support coaches’ learning experiences. I am sharing them here as thoughts in progress.
I am particularly interested in exploring:

  • Understanding
  • Performance pre-view
  • Warrant

and how they relate to the celebration of personal learning.
I discuss each of these briefly before attempting to connect them in a discussion.


In the late 1990s, I was fortunate to follow a number of online courses with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. One of these courses explored Teaching for Understanding.
My participation in the course brought together two other formative experiences. One was access to Max Weber’s discussions of ‘verstehen‘ and the associated literature about understanding the world from another person’s perspective. From this I developed a strong interest in the social construction of reality. In doing so I met the writings of Wilhelm Dilthey, Georg Simmel, Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz.
The second formative experience was being taught by Dave Bunker and Rod Thorpe as they were developing their approach to teaching games for understanding. I met them seven years before the publication of their 1982 paper in the Bulletin of Physical Education (A model for the teaching of games in the secondary school). I applied their approach to my teaching practice and enjoyed seeing pupils’ responses to their ownership of learning.
The Harvard Group helped me build on these connections. The Teaching for Understanding Project used a performance perspective for understanding. This perspective proposes that:

understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things with a topic; such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, analogizing, and representing the topic in new ways. (Blythe (1998), 12)

In this approach, the development of understanding is a continuous process. Throughout the process the learner is able to:

carry out a variety of actions or “performances” that show one’s grasp of a topic and at the same time advance it. It is being able to take knowledge and use it in new ways. … such performances are called “understanding performances” or “performances of understanding”. (Blythe (1998), 13)

The Teaching for Understanding Project used a four part framework to scaffold understanding opportunities. I think each of them raises some important issues for coach learning: generative topics, understanding goals, performances of understanding, assessment.

Performance Pre-View

I have been profoundly influenced by the Harvard Group’s approach to performances of understanding. I think this is why I attach so much importance to feedforward in learning environments.
Advancing our understanding is for me about how we will be. Our reflections can help share where we have been.
Much of my current work at the University of Canberra is focussed upon how we might support staff and student personal learning journeys through the sharing of information about students’ perceptions of their learning experiences and the assessment of their course work.
The staff in my project all participate, at present, in a performance review structure. This annual process generates enormous anxiety and preoccupies much of staff thinking time. As in other institutions, this review process is essentially about compliance.
I am keen to explore how this approach might be transformed into a pre-view process that celebrates performances of understanding and enables a narrative approach to how we will be. I sense that this would become an exciting story sharing opportunity.
I am hopeful too that any pre-view approach is a formative process rather than an aversive summative ordeal.
Pre-view makes time available and has the potential to have a kairological quality. It is a process that can be nourished by critical friendship and appreciative enquiry.
A recent Harvard Business Review post (Cappelli and Tavis, 2016) indicates that this may be an idea whose time has come. Peter and Anna note “From Silicon Valley to New York, and in offices across the world, firms are replacing annual reviews with frequent, informal check-ins between managers and employees”.
I am hopeful that such informal check-ins will explore personal learning through conversations about understanding.
It becomes an accumulating sharing and connection. It is about flourishing in the best of times and the worst of times.
I am mindful that I need to address assessment next as i propose a different way of accounting for coaches’ performance.


Chris Trevitt, Anne Macduff and Aliya Steed (2014) raise the question of warrant in their discussion of [e]portfolios. They suggest that the term ‘warrant’ denotes “high-stakes assessment ‘such as certificates and diplomas that testify to achievement'”. For them it refers unambiguously to “high-stakes summative assessment”.
They give this argument a twist in their discussion of the place [e]portfolios in life-long learning:

there is an emerging interest in the potential of [e]portfolios to realise both learning and assessment (viz, warranting), even if exactly what is meant by ‘portfolio’ in the term ‘[e] portfolio’ varies widely. (2014, 70)

They suggest:

In the context of portfolios for learning about – and as evidence supporting warrants of – the transition to practice, … a portfolio should include, minimally, five elements:

* Representations of practice

* Engagement with key ideas in the domain of practice, and/or the relevant literature

* Reflective commentary—an autobiographical/autoethnographic aspect that takes an inquiring and critical stance

* Integration or linkage between the first three elements;

* Sufficient breadth to include multiple aspects of … practice. (2014, 70)

One of their conclusions is:

The notion of [e]portfolios as a vehicle for both learning and warranting purposes has considerable appeal, especially as the pressures mount to broaden the curriculum beyond just discipline content and embed capabilities such as ‘learning-to-learn’. (2014, 77.)

I believe this connection between learning and warranting is made stronger by encouragement of and support for authentic accounts of continuing personal learning (Trevitt and Stocks, 2012).


Whilst researching and writing this post, I heard from Al Smith. Al is involved in a project with Team Sky that aims “to surface and share the collective wisdom of the global Performance sport community”. He and his colleagues, Mark and Andrew, at myfastestmile will be using SenseMaker to collect and share this wisdom. This is an exciting initiative to capture narrative on a large scale.
Institutions can take heart from the feasibility of this approach … and its scaling.
I heard too from Kurt Lindlay. Kurt shared a link to Mark O’Sullivan’s post The Coach Educator, the Coach and Coach Education. I enjoyed the way Mark explored his reflections on his practice and shared his thoughts on learning environments.
Both links, to Al and Mark, came through connections. I am delighted that connectivism is an everyday experience for me. Living in Australia, I have an opportunity to start my day a little later than friends in New Zealand but earlier than friends in the northern hemisphere.
I have lots of opportunity to reflect too.
In this post I am hoping that my identification of understanding, performance pre-view and warrant, has added to the conversation I shared earlier this week about coach learning.
I do see enormous potential to make coaches’ learning profoundly personal. I introduced the concept of warrant to contribute to a discussion about how we acknowledge learning that is personal. I see an [e]portfolio as the opportunity to share emergent thinking and practice in a living document that transforms the high stakes of summative assessment into formative performances of understanding.
What I am proposing through the interconnections between understanding, pre-view and warrant is demanding. It needs time to flourish … as do individuals. That is why I think the connections between these three components should be addressed in a formative way.
As coaches we work in a formative way with athletes. We have a sense of where they might go with their learning and we modulate our guided discovery in practice, rehearsal and competition to support this journey.
I think that this is the way coaches can be supported.
We can shape our practice through connections with others. This requires others to be interested in our daily activities and keen to learn about the subjective meanings we give to our actions (the essence of understanding).
From where I am in my thinking, the possibilities for personal learning pathways are limited only by our imaginations.
We can go beyond a systems approach to coach education and can make profound epistemological leaps in the ways we envision coaching as continuing learning experiences.
Each of us is a work in progress with a story to share.
Thank you for reaching this point in my post. I am keen to learn whether these ideas make sense to you too.

Photo Credit

The Wall, the Gate, the Fire (Kat, CC BY-SA 2.0)
New York City Construction (Timothy Neesam, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Gateways (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)
Connections (Tjflex2, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. “We can go beyond a systems approach to coach education and can make profound epistemological leaps in the ways we envision coaching as continuing learning experiences”…if one substitutes or inter/intrachanges leadership followership and coaching, there is a wonderful resonance with the research we have been working towards! Fascinating.


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