Posted on 12/22/2010 at 12:24 PM by Blog Experts

Gordon’s Skill Development Ladder

William Gordon identifies the process one goes through when beginning a task not previously undertaken by comparing it to a ladder. We all go through various stages when we are learning something new, trying to grasp a new concept or technology, or going to a new location and meeting new people – all require a process that has us moving up and down the ladder of skill development. Once we get the hang of things we operate naturally and successfully, until the next time we are up against something new.

On the lower rung is a teacher who is learning a new technique. She has never heard or used this technique before. She is unconsciously unskilled in this technique and hasn’t a clue.

On the next rung, the teacher recognizes the technique as a valuable tool that should be used in her classroom. While she is aware of its value and knows something about the technique, she isn’t skilled in its use. In fact, she may have been using it, but now that she is conscious of the technique, it suddenly feels uncomfortable and unnatural - she is Consciously Unskilled. 

Some teachers get stuck on this rung because there is a lot of discomfort with using the new skill causing confusion and learning suffers a little at first. Without continued observation, support, celebration, and feedback from a coach, most teachers do not move onto the next rung of Gordon’s Ladder.

When a coach provides feedback, support, and celebration to the teacher, helping her practice in a safe environment without concern about how she looks the first few times out the skill climbs to a higher level and more options become available to the teacher. The coach can make the coachee feel comfortable with her discomfort because the mutual goal continues to be the improvement of teaching. 

Once a coachee has practiced a skill and has it internalized, she moves up to the Consciously Skilled rung on Gordon’s Ladder. The coach’s observation and feedback is also crucial on this rung of the ladder. The skill can be accomplished so long as the person is thinking about it, aware of it, and practicing it in her head. She knows the “what” and the “how” as long as she consciously thinks about it.

With coaching, support, and practice, a teacher learning something new can move to the Unconsciously Skilled rung of Gordon’s Ladder. At this level, the skill has become ingrained. It is used naturally and well.

Steven Barkley would add one more rung to Gordon’s Ladder – Unconsciously Talented. In his experience with educators and administrators he has discovered some professionals who just seem to be talented without any thought about what they are doing. Through years of trial and error, they have developed strategies or behaviors that cause them to be successful. They are unconscious of their talent and they cannot explain to others what it is they do.

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