Unifying principles

The 3 Conceptual Lenses Framework

Tania Lattanzio and Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall look for unifying concepts that we can all use to inform effective teaching and learning, regardless of our starting points.

Challenge, Control and Community

What are the current buzzwords that you hear about in education? Here are some terms you may have heard about through the media: differentiation, agency, inquiry based learning, direct/ explicit instruction, authentic assessment, universal design for learning. These  isolated perspectives in education can be confusing. How are all of these different instructional practices related?  We need a holistic view of education that connects these approaches and supports professional and personal growth of all learners and educators.

All learners, regardless of approach,  need to be given opportunities for Challenge, Control and to contribute to the Community which we call the The 3Cs framework. The 3Cs framework  encompasses all approaches and may  be used as conceptual lenses to provide a focus and connect all aspects of pedagogy, curriculum development and education as a whole.

Why Challenge, Control and Community you ask? Let’s address these one by one.

Conceptual lens #1: Challenge

“Information without intellect is meaningless”

Dr Lynn Erickson

Many educators and institutions confuse academic challenge and rigour with intellectual challenge and rigor. Common approaches to academic challenge, include acceleration of the curriculum and racing through shallow content material. As a result students are often disengaged, and do not acquire the necessary knowledge and understanding to apply and transfer their learning to complex and unfamiliar situations.

Curriculum design needs to focus on enrichment of the curriculum over acceleration by engaging learners’ intellect. Intellectual challenge involves engaging students intellect, developing critical thinking skills, and preparing students for a complex world. It is vital that we provide learners with cognitive challenge to support the formation of brain schemata.

Dweck (2019) said “A growth mindset can lead students to take on more challenges” and learners need to understand productive struggle and challenge is necessary part of the learning process. Empirical cognitive and neuroscience research shows deep conceptual understanding is achieved only through productive struggle in the classroom. (Bullmaster-Day,  2021)

Principles to provide Challenge:
  • Ensure all learners are appropriately challenged and we plan in response to and in partnership with our learners.
  • Focus on developing deep conceptual understanding for levels of complexity, building schemata, and transfer.
  • Plan learning with consideration for students’ prior knowledge, interests, questions, and theory building.
  • Motivate learners through curating an environment that promotes curiosity and valuing learners’ wonderment.
Four implementation ideas
  1. Design high ceiling low threshold learning experiences ….entry exit points.
  2. Ask students to metacognitively reflect on their learning and identify where they are being intellectually challenged.
  3. Pose questions that are open ended and which involves synthesis and analysis in responses.
  4. Explicitly teach creativity and growth mindset skills.
Conceptual lens #2: Choice

“The concept of student agency, as understood in the context of the OECD Learning Compass 2030, is rooted in the principle that students have the ability and the will to positively influence their own lives and the world around them.”

OECD Future of Education and Skills, 2030

It is important for our learners that we provide opportunities for them to be in charge of their learning. Providing these opportunities increases student motivation and engagement. This extends to students making decisions at a school level, where their ideas are valued, listened to and acted upon. Where they are partners in their learning.

“By empowering students to exercise a degree of autonomous decision making, student choice makes students active participants in their educations, thereby increasing levels of engagement. ”

(Hanover Research 2014)

Principles to grant control:

 Plan for learners to develop self regulation, independence, and self management skills.

  • Give opportunities for learners to have control and choice over their learning path through personalizing learning.
  • Co-construct the learning journey to provide learners with control and choice in the “what”, “when” and “how” of their learning.
  • Involve learners in making decisions connected to their own learning and to the school community.
Four implementation ideas
  1. Have students suggest the skills or areas they are experts in and then have them organise sign up sessions where other students can sign up to learn from them.
  2. Ask students during the learning, what is working, what is not, what would they like to change.
  3. Involve students in policy decision and writing policies, in making decisions in the school (we develop policies and make decisions for students; however, rarely do we involve them in the decision-making process).
  4. Have students set up routines and procedures for the class to build community, adapting and changing along the way as things come up.
Conceptual lens #3: Community

Connecting students to each other and to their community provides an opportunity to build relationships, develop empathy and understand what it means to be human. Through promoting community students have the opportunity to connect their learning to authentic experiences. Where they have the chance to work, contribute and learn alongside others. “Results showed that authentic learning strategies encouraged higher order thinking skills, made learning active, supported the development of important career skills and enhanced understanding. The positive results strongly encourage the use of authentic learning strategies to engage students’ creative and critical thinking.” 2013

They understand that their actions can have an impact on others and that they can contribute positively to their community, from caring for a friend to service projects on a larger scale.

Principles  to support the development of Community:
  • Develop an empathetic learning community where all learners thrive, and intercultural understanding, compassion, and respect are fostered.
  • Encourage connections and partnerships to community to promote contextual authentic learning.
  • Promote an awareness and understanding that our actions may impact our environment and others.
  • Valuing the importance of Interpersonal, communication, and collaboration skills, for our dynamically changing interconnected world.
Four implementation ideas:
  1. Develop class agreements with students focussing on what they will do as a class, not to be written as rules, which are adaptable as class culture is built and changed.
  2. Promote learners to be problem finders, where they identify issues and problems within their school and  community and develop actions to resolve them.
  3. Embed communication and collaborative skills into the learning where students have the opportunity to develop and improve in their skills in an ongoing basis as a part of the learning.
  4. Connect learning to and addressing the UN’s 17 SDGS to positively contribute to the betterment of society.

This approach to curriculum, teaching and learning enables teachers to take into consideration and address the needs of all students from a holistic perspective, where academic, social and emotional perspectives are examined, and individual needs are considered within the context of what that means in connection to being a part of a larger community.

Through challenging students; we ensure they are intellectually stimulated, by giving students control; we provide  opportunities for them to be active participants in their learning and focussing on community ensures connections and promotes the understanding that we can contribute positively to our world.

We believe that when focussing learning around the 3Cs; challenge, control and community we are able to provide students with a rich learning experience that engages and motivates all.


Tania Lattanzio is an author and international educator. Previously a teacher, coordinator, and manager with the International Baccalaureate, she is now Director of Innovative Global Education.





Jennifer Chang Wathall is an independent education consultant, author and part-time instructor for the University of Hong Kong. With over 25 years experience in the education field, she has worked in several international schools including South Island School, Hong Kong, The United Nations International School, New York and Island School, Hong Kong.


Feature Image: by chenspec from Pixabay