The 7 Conditions of Learning: Demonstration

This is Part II of exploring Professor Brian Cambourne’s 7 Conditions of Learning. Read the intro here and Immersion here.

“This is a physical teaching of a lesson, or a model example of what the teacher wants the student to learn.”

Brain Principle #2: The brain changes as a result of experiences. 

Teachers model what they want their students to learn. Psychologist J. Philippe Rushton writes: “It is our job as educators to help connect for the students the various mental process they experience throughout their day as they are exposed to these demonstrations.”

So why do students fail?

Cambourne provides three reasons:

  1. The student gets faulty demonstrations of how reading and writing are done.

  2. The student receives appropriate demonstrations but don’t engage with them.

  3. The student receives the message “reading and writing is too difficult for them.”

Okay, that’s the background. Let me tell you why this aspect of reading is so important to me: The reading teacher sent my 7-year-old son, Nicholas, home with the two sentences to learn the word saw. The first sentence was: I saw a cat climb up a tree.

Firstly, the sentence only gives the abstract meaning of the words saw. The teacher ignored, or failed to give, a complete meaning of this word—to a child who has known “language difficulties.”

With such sentences, she failed to show him how the written language works. That’s a faulty demonstration.

My personal issue with such sentences is that this particular teacher ignored my son and his learning experience. This teacher was so busy reproducing the same sentences for every child in her care, she ignored the child she was teaching in a 1-1 situation. 

The other challenge? The teacher’s thinking. “This boy doesn’t understand because he has a low IQ.” Never once was the teaching examined. It was easier to blame the child than examine the teaching. That’s the next failure. 

I also notice a struggle with the words “to/two” and “for/four.” When students of various ages (5-15) come to me for tutoring, I ask them to give me sentences with both those words.

Invariably, students will say: to—I have two hands or I am two years old.

With the word for, they reply—A dog has four legs. Or I am four years old.

As you know, those sentences are not correct! If students have been in school for over a year, and they reply with such sentences, we have failed to give appropriate demonstrations. 

Why does a child give such a response? Because they have had incomplete demonstrations with words with multiple meaning.

My students are still only seeing the concrete meaning. The teaching has failed them.

The teaching must change to show students how the WRITTEN LANGUAGE WORKS. I explicitly teach my students: “This is what happens when we talk, this is what happens when we write!”


My Box Lesson is one of my best examples of making language real and bringing language to life, where students take abstract words and think outside the box while tapping into their curiosity. The brain principle indicates “that the brain changes physiologically as a result of experience. The brain literally changes and grows with each experience we have!

If we are to teach more students to read, we the teachers, are the ones who must adapt our teaching and make it more explicit.

Next time, we’ll talk Engagement.