There seems to be some misunderstanding, though, about exactly what HPL proposes an effective learning cycle ought to look like. Since in HPL, there is a place for everything, here is my 30,000-foot understanding and implementation of the four-stage process it advocates. I don't claim to be the definitive voice in any of this. I'm just taking this opportunity to document and share my practices in using their model because I believe that understanding this framework can go a long way toward helping teachers make good instructional decisions that can help their students to learn and thrive.
Specifically, HPL advocates:
STAGE 1 - a hands-on introductory task designed to uncover & organize prior knowledge. In this stage, collaborative activity provides an occasion for exploratory talk so that students can uncover and begin to organize their existing knowledge;
STAGE 2 - initial provision of a new expert model, with scaffolding & metacognitive practices woven together. The goal here is to help students bring their new ideas and knowledge into clearer focus so that they can reach the next level. Here again, collaborative activity can provide a setting in which to externalize mental processes and to negotiate understanding, although often, this can be a good place to offer some direct instruction;
STAGE 3 - what HPL refers to as "'deliberate practice' with metacognitive self-monitoring." Here the idea is to use cooperative learning structures to create a place of practice in which learners can work within a clearly defined structure in which they can advance through the 3 stages of fluency (effortful -> relatively effortless -> automatic)
STAGE 4 - working through a transfer task (or tasks) to apply and extend their new knowledge in new and non-routine contexts.As with all good models, there is a lot of fluidity and variation in each stage, depending on how the teacher "reads" the learners in her classroom. Here are some of my notes on each of the stages and how I have learned to look at each stage realistically and pragmatically:
A good discovery activity can be a powerful catalyst for learning in Stage 1. But unfortunately, sometimes there just really isn't a great discovery activity that leads students captivatingly but inexorably to a blinding insight that will transform their learning forever.
Sometimes the best you've got is a mediocre discovery activity from a textbook that kinda sorta leads students in the general direction — but not without a lot of heavy-handed guidance. Or perhaps there is some other deficiency in what is available to you.
Like Gattegno, I believe that all learners have an energy "budget," and that means I have to make savvy and strategic decisions about how I'm going to ask my students to apply theirs. A boring or mediocre discovery activity requires just as much energy as a great one, but without the payoff of leaving students energized.
So sometimes I've learned I have to ask myself, is a discovery activity the best choice I can make here at Stage 1? Or do I have some other kind of introductory task I could use — such as a simulation, a story, a funny or interesting deleted scene, or some other kind of analogy — that will get my class into the learning episode faster and free up more of their energies to developing the necessary fluency that a rich and interesting transfer task may require?
To me, the most important thing that can happen in Stage 1 of a learning episode is that students come sharply to appreciate the Burning Question of this segment. Whenever possible, I really like for my students to arrive at a Burning Question through a collaborative discovery activity that they own because when they own it, they buy into it.
But realistically, this is simply not always possible with every single topic in the curriculum. So I have a range of strategies for Stage 1 that can get my students to a Burning Question even though there may be a gap in my pedagogical arsenal.
If the purpose of Stage 1 is to motivate students to ask a Burning Question, then the purpose of Stage 2 is to provisionally "pay off" the Burning Question — and to whet their appetite for knowing more. I say that my purpose here is to provisionally pay off the Burning Question because I believe a huge part of growing up as a learner is developing your own internal capacity for identifying questions and finding ways to pay them off and extend them.
So for me, this is where I "earn" the right to give my student a little bit of lecture, although when I work with them, I always call it "doing some notes" or "organizing our ideas" or "investigating ways in which others before us have thought about this problem." I say this not because I'm trying not to admit that I am lecturing (I am lecturing here) but I am also modeling note-taking and annotating practices that they will need when they arrive at a class where there is no other learning mode than lecture. No matter who you are and no matter where you study, at some point, somebody is going to lecture at you. If you are lucky (like I was at Princeton), those who lecture at you will consider it a high art form and will put great thought and care into their storytelling and argumentation modes.
Realistically, though, a lot of the lecture we encounter in our lives is not thrilling. But you need a certain degree of note-keeping and annotating skills that will enable you to survive those instructors and their inanimate lecturing practices so you can take what you need from their teaching and move on in your life.
So I use Stage 2 to also teach my students these note-taking/note-keeping/annotation survival skills as well as some metacognitive practices that will help them to get the greatest possible "bang" for their note-taking "buck."
As HPL clearly says, Stage 2 is about the "initial provision of an expert model." This is the place where we are sharing what students cannot find or develop on their own — or at least, what they cannot find or develop very efficiently given the time constraints of teaching and learning.
So please don't tell me there's no place for a transmission model in the HPL learning cycle. It's there, we all do it, and we all need to do it from time to time. Enough said. Let's move on.
With some new knowledge or ideas in hand, and having borrowed a more expert model from me as a tradeoff for accelerating the learning cycle, students need time to practice thinking these new thoughts, using the new model, and discovering what happens when they take it out for a spin. Deliberate practice with metacognitive self-monitoring is not the same thing as drill-and-kill. It's a form of experiential learning, like what a young child develops as they are integrating new vocabulary words. I've heard that a toddler needs to hear a new word used appropriately in context between 10 and 20 times before s/he can try it out for herself or himself. Mathematical ideas are no different. Students need to try and stumble, try and wobble, try and fall over, dust themselves off and try again until something takes hold in their unconscious. Nobody really knows what this secret crossover point is for every learner in every subject and every topic. So we provide a range of experiences for our students to help them find this crossover point for themselves.
Once students achieve some degree of "relatively effortless" fluency, they can dive into a transfer task.To me, an inspiring transfer task is more important than all of the mediocre discovery tasks in the world combined. An inspiring transfer task takes a learner seriously as a professional, and offers him or her an engaging, in-context opportunity to apply their new learning with all its glorious, messy, gravity-driven moving parts. One lightbulb moment from a transfer task — say, as Barbie is launched over a balcony railing, held aloft only by a series of looped rubber bands in answer to the question "How do we balance 'thrilling' and 'dangerous' to give her the greatest possible bungee jump that does not split her little plastic skull open?" — can last a lifetime. Being tasked to figure out experimentally and quantitatively whether or not Double Stuf Oreos do indeed contain double the "Stuf" as regular Oreos... or whether they are another marketing fraud being perpetrated on the Oreo-eating public can easily push a student over the fence into losing themselves in doing mathematics.
And frankly, to me, that is the whole point.