The Learn.Think.Do Process is anchored in both Cognitive Engagement and Design Thinking

Cognitive Engagement is essential to the design of effective learning experiences. Dr. Betty Garner, a former art educator, developed the human-centered and learner-directed design model. This creative approach to learning has been successfully used with students of all ages around the world

The following instructional flow served as the framework of NOCCA Design Day 2011:

  • Explore  Learners notice, experience, and gather sensory input.
  • Describe  Learners begin cognitive processing by making connections with prior knowledge.
  • Explain  Facilitator clarifies and builds on learner descriptions, introduces new materials, concepts, and asks students what sense they are making of it all and expand their processing.
  • Demonstrate  Learners share evidence of learning outcomes by analyzing and integrating information and applying their understandings.
  • Evaluate  Learners and facilitator reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of the learning experience, how it could be improved, and what questions come to mind as a result of the experience.

1.   Explore  |  Students notice, experience, and gather sensory input

Start with an interesting and engaging nonacademic exercise (such as imagery, a piece of literature, words, symbols, etc.) to help the students develop cognitive structures such as noticing patterns and relationships to then apply to content areas. Provide concrete materials for students to touch, see, hear, smell, taste, and interactive with. Teacher encourages student-generated questions and comments to share their curiosity, observations, and what they notice. Students need to “see with their eyes” the physical characteristics of objects and “see with their minds” the connections and unusual things they notice and have questions about.

How the teacher relates to the students and interacts with them, affects how engaged the students will be in the activity.

2.   Describe  |  Students begin cognitive processing by making connections with prior knowledge

Provide time for students to describe and discuss with each other and with the class what they noticed and wondered about. Encourage students to ask questions. Encourage students to write and/or draw what they noticed to make connections, find patterns, formulate rules, and make abstract generalizations. This is an excellent opportunity for a formative assessment to gain insight into the types of words learners use to think and communicate, their level of knowledge, and how they process information.

How the teacher reacts to questions and models being a curious learner determines whether or not the students ask questions.

 3.   Explain  |  Teacher clarifies and builds on student descriptions, introduces new materials concepts, and asks students what sense they are making of it all and expand their processing

Provide connections between student experiences; offer feedback, and present new information. Pace content and skills so that students can enjoy the challenge of new learning and the satisfaction of understanding. Encourage cognitive, physical, and emotional engagement. Present the material in multiple ways to meet the needs of individual students.

Teacher competence, enthusiasm, relationship with students, organization, and ability to make information relevant directly affects students' willingness to learn new material.

4.   Demonstrate  |  Students share evidence of learning outcomes, by analyzing and integrating information and applying their understandings

Provide time, coaching, and materials for students to demonstrate in their own words their understanding of the new concepts. Encourage continued questioning and learning through research projects (group and individual) related to the new information. Encourage application of new information to life through relevant action to influence change without imitating what the teacher presented (write letters, call, e-mail, research internet, interviews, etc). Encourage creative ways to demonstrate understanding (written report, journal, letters, editorials; oral report, role playing, drama, PowerPoint, animation, movie, video, drawing, posters, models, or by teaching information to someone else, or making up an assignment).

Teacher willingness to build on the students’ strengths and “let students do the work” greatly enhances students’ learning.

5.   Evaluate  |  Students and teacher reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson, how it could be improved, and what questions come to mind as a result of the experience

Provide opportunity to reflectively respond to question: “What sense did I make of this?” Encourage students to help develop scoring guides to evaluate effectiveness of learning. How do they know they have learned new knowledge or skill? How could we do this differently the next time to improve this learning experience? Develop a plan of action, what will students do as a result of this learning? How will they continue to use these new concepts in everyday life and in other subject areas?

How teachers and students collaborate to evaluate learning determines personal investment in continued learning.


[1]   Garner, Betty K. (2008). Getting to got it! : Helping struggling students learn how to learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. www.all-edu.com

Design Thinking is a form of Systems Thinking, as defined by Arnold Wasserman of Collective Invention and a member of NOCCA's Academic Studio Advisory Council:

"Systems Thinking emphasizes our need to understand a whole system and the relationships between its parts rather than focusing on its parts in isolation. The goal is to uncover those aspects of the system that with the greatest potential to change the system as a whole. Design Thinking begins by understanding both the tacit and explicit needs of stakeholders, and then carries this understanding through a design process. In this context, design thinking is the process of taking an imaginative leap into the future and working back from the desired outcome to identify what must then happen."

Student Preparation

Prior to our interactions, students will have been exposed to concepts such as creative thinking, critical thinking, and problem-based learning. Building on these requisite components, the day's activities will provide students with meaningful content and relevant opportunities to explore the design process and engage with essential elements.

Design Day 2011 Learning Outcomes


As a result of the day’s experiences, students will be better prepared to integrate aspects of personal relevance relating to design research, creative problem solving, communication, and collaboration into their self-directed learning experiences at NOCCA.



Over time, students will become creative thinkers, problem solvers, and producers of knowledge and art. The goal is for students to continuously grow as they become reflectively aware of their learning process and environment. 


By extension, students will develop the capacity to effectively apply, integrate, and transfer Learn.Think.Do strategies as they: 

  • Process and demonstrate their understandings in academic and creative classes
  • Contribute to the design and plan of NOCCA’s teaching and learning spaces
  • Contribute to the design and plan the future Homer Plessy Museum