Back in 2014 I posted a simple page describing the “Whole-Part-Whole” session plan — play a game (“Whole”), coach a specific skill component relevant to that game (“Part”), then play the game, or a conditioned version of the game, again (“Whole”, again).
Just a description, filed under “coaching resources” alongside some more traditional session plans (level 2, back then, was billed as “learning to write plans”), with no attempt to explain why it might be useful.
Recently, the page has started to generate some more views — nothing spectacular, but as many visits in the last 12 months as in the previous 7 years.
So I thought it might be interesting to take another look at Whole-Part-Whole (WPW), and why I still think it is a useful framework for session planning.
I completed my level 2 coaching qualification in 2011, and in 2014 attended a post-level 2 CPD course on games-based learning. I had only recently started regular (paid) coaching, so I was keen to record what I had learnt.
“Whole-Part-Whole” was presented in the CPD event as an option for session planning for coaches, but with no theoretical foundation.
Simply “it works because we say it will, so you should use it.”
So I created a simple “page” posting, rather than a blog, and left it on this site.
But over the years, I have come to realise how WPW is supported by several “pedagogical” theories of learning, and is not just another “coaching fad”.
Whitehead: Romance | Precision | Generalisation
“Education must essentially be a setting in order of a ferment already stirring in the mind: you cannot educate mind in vacuo.”Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythm of Education, 1922
I was very taken by Alfred North Whitehead’s descriptions of the rhythms inherent in learning — from freedom (play) to discipline (learning) and back (play, again).
How the teacher/coach first needs to engage the learner’s attention — he called it the “romance” stage, where the learner comes to have an interest in a topic.
Once engaged, the learner is then more susceptible to Whitehead’s “Precision” phase — acquiring relevant knowledge (or techniques) because the learner is already interested in the outcomes.
And, finally, taking that knowledge from the class room back to the “real” world (or the playing field), testing it, adapting if required, and adopting it for general usage.
If the language seems a bit too “flowery” (Whitehead wrote shortly after the First World War) perhaps this more “business-like” description might suit, better.
- Identify an opportunity (“I could have won this game if only I could…”);
- Develop an appropriate new skill-set (“How do I…?”);
- Apply that new skill-set to exploit the opportunity (“With my new skill, I can win the game!”).
Which is exactly what WPW attempts to do.
For more on Whitehead on rhythms of learning, see Practice vs.Play; Freedom vs. Discipline.
Conversational frameworks of learning
During lockdown, I took some time to look into the theoretical foundations of online learning. There had to be more to it than posting a “how to” video and expecting players to get better at playing by following the coach’s on-screen moves!
One especially interesting line of thought was described in Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Frameworks, and how effective learning is facilitated through the interplay between the various Learning Types (not to be confused with the (perhaps mythical) Learning Styles — VARK etc.).
Laurillard’s Learning Types include:
- Investigation — testing the knowledge/technique
- Practice — drills to test Acquisition (have you learnt what the teacher/coach has taught?)
- Production — developing & presenting concepts; playing the game using new techniques/skills
One “conversation” might follow the path:
Investigation | Practice | Production
Or — try a game to find out how to win it; develop an new technique or skill appropriate to the challenge; try out that new skill in a game environment.
And this sounds remarkably like WPW!
For more on Conversational Frameworks and learning types, see Conversational Frameworks and Coaching.
Whole-Part-Whole — more than just a session structure
There does indeed seem to be a sound theoretical basis for believing that WPW is, indeed, a valid session format.
But beyond the single session, perhaps there is a wider “philosophy of coaching” to be discovered. How (and what) we coach should be linked to how people learn, and not just what the coach wants to teach!