Engagement heuristics schema & bounded rationality
Reflecting on the
Nature of Teacher
Heuristics, schema and
School of Education
University of Leicester
• Some initial thinking and ideas
• Based on several areas of work from the last few years
• Complexity Theory
• Lesson Study
• Curriculum Design and programme development
• Action Research projects
• Emergent process
• Teaching as an activity is meaningless unless it is
considered in conjunction with:
• If we take any one of these elements, they
are each made up of a large number of
• They are complex adaptive systems – in this case
interpenetrating complex adaptive systems
Pedagogy defined as the interpenetration of these complex adaptive systems
and their interaction with teacher and students
But faced by such huge complexity, how can teachers’ work be
experienced as a coherent process?
• We build a schema which helps to scaffold and structure our
understanding and practice of pedagogy
• Such schemata emerge over time, developed through practice,
experience, engagement with educational debates
• Influenced by prior experiences and values/ethics
• Help in complexity reduction (Biesta, 2010)
In the classroom, we also reduce the immediate complexity through the use
‘A heuristic is a strategy that ignores part of the information, with the goal of making
decisions more quickly, frugally, and/or accurately than more complex methods.’
(Gigerenzer and Gaissmaier, 2011: 454)
‘[Simple heuristics]..are indispensable to social intelligence.’
‘…complex social problems with ill-defined rules…lie far beyond the reach of optimization.
Complexity makes simple heuristics indispensable.’
(Hertwig et al, 2013: 16-17)
Examples of heuristics
• ‘Imitate the successful’ heuristic - Determine the most successful
individual in a given context and imitate their behaviour
• ‘Representativeness’ heuristic – using past experience of events. To what
extent does this event fit with similar events/known processes I have
come across before?
• ‘Availability’ heuristic – the probability of an event is estimated by how
many like events can be immediately called to mind
• ‘Familiarity’ heuristic – where the familiar is preferred over the novel, and
linked to the ‘availability’ heuristic
Modified double (triple?)-loop
learning model (based on Argyris)
theoretical models and
• Schemata and heuristics are simplifications and therefore will always be approximations.
• Reflective practice is concerned with identifying fallacies/approximations and opening up
areas of complexity to consider and change practice – amending heuristics and schemata.
• Research is the same process, but extends evidence concerning the complexity and useful
possible practice changes in a given context.
• Complex pragmatism – knowledge and understanding of complexity through action.
• Theory-practice gap dissolves as theories are only schemata/heuristics in a sense.
Some initial thoughts
• Teachers develop over time by creating and amending schemata and
heuristics which provide the basis for judgement and practice – the
development of pedagogic literacy
• Reflective practice (and research) help create better schemata and
• The emergence of ‘wise judgement’ (Biesta, 2014): the continued
grappling with these processes
• When helping new teachers develop practice, or supporting those in
trouble, we need to help them develop a structured understanding of
their emerging practice, and support reflective/reflexive practice.