April 30, 2018

The ladder of communication

Some colleagues believe STEM subjects are ‘difficult’, whereas we would characterise the difficulty as one of a gap in communication.

We propose looking at the communication gap to explore increasing accessibility of STEM.

We developed a diagram to represent the communication gap between learner and formal STEM language and ideas. The learner is thought of as at the bottom of a ladder wanting to climb up the ladder of subject knowledge and the STEM expert is at the top.

In the left-most diagram, the formal STEM speaker is unable to construct the scaffolding ladder of communication all the way down to the learner’s current understanding.

In the middle diagram, a teacher with good communication skills but less knowledge of formal STEM is unable to construct the ladder all the way up to the formal science.

The ideal ladder is shown right-most.


One form the ladder might take is based on the work of Bruner, known as enactive - iconic -symbolic.

If an idea is found inaccessible to a learner, it becomes more accessible when presented in approriate images.

If the images are not accessible, learners can come to understand a concept through making or enacting it, for example, by creating a graph using learners as data points.

This idea used successfully in Singapore as concrete-pictorial-abstract:


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Janet

    At the weekend I talked to a student who is just finishing a doctorate in chemistry. She has decided to go into teaching, and in England there is a choice of several routes. She has decided to do a PGCE at Manchester as she is aware that, although she is obviously very knowledgeable about chemistry, she might not be able to communicate this to all her learners. Hopefully the PGCE will give her the ability to extend her ladder of knowledge down to their level, and the PGCE might be the best option for this . As she will have to teach physics and biology as well, subjects that she hasn’t studied for years, she might be able to put herself in the position of the learners in the course of her studies. She will have to build her ladder upwards in this case!

    01 May 2018, 09:36

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  1. More on the Ladder of Communication

    This diagram can be usefully viewed from both the perspective of the teacher and that of the learner. To bridge the communication gap between themselves and the learner, an effective teacher will need to know about both the concept to be learned, and the l…

    Improving communication, engagement and resilience in STEM classrooms in South Africa - 28 May 2018, 10:31

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