Percolating on thinking!


Peculation is the term used by Benedict Carey when discussing how ideas form for writers.    He suggests that big projects or more extensive assignments are best dealt with through having the bigger task in mind throughout, but with smaller related build up tasks contained within the lead up to the main task.   The idea here is that this makes use of Zeigarnick effect where mental goals, such as completing the main assignment, leads to greater awareness of ideas, concepts or objects related to the goal even when we are doing a separate or even unrelated task.   As a result of this effect we may pick up and even learn things while about our main goal while undertaking and intermediary task.

He also suggests that, linked to this, we should start with a bigger task rather than smaller tasks.    My normal approach has always been to start with smaller easier tasks such as reading a variety of literature during my Masters study from a few years ago.    I always felt this helped my confidence and eased me into the bigger task in hand.   All my reading and note taking then led to tackling the actual writing part towards the end of the time window I had allocated for completing my Masters study.      The reality of the matter is that when it came to the writing part I struggled long and hard to get everything done and often not quite to the standards I would prefer.   Carey suggested that I should have started with a larger writing task as this would have focused me and made me more perceptive of linked or inconsistent ideas or observations within the literature as I read through it.  As such new ideas related to the topic in hand would be more visible to me plus would prove to be easier for me to link to existing knowledge.    This is turn may have made it easier for me to build my final dissertation.   So maybe I could have read only a couple of journals before writing a more lengthy summary document or analysis, then going on to read further as opposed to trying to do all the reading up front and leaving the writing until the end.

Carey’s comments focus very much on the subconscious side of things in that we don’t actually perceive our increased perceptiveness relating to the goal or outcome in mind.   I also believe there is a part to play for the conscious mind.    I think this is best summed up by Coveys comment, “start with the end in mind.”    Students need to know where they are going with their learning.   Linked to this they also need to know where they have been, their previous knowledge and how this links together and how this might link to the new learning at hand.    Only then can students truly understand the route taken in their learning journey.    I am particularly fond of Microsoft OneNote as an app for keeping a live mind map of learning although I will discuss that further in a separate posting in the coming weeks.

The more I think about how we learn, and the more I think about thinking, the more possibilities arise for how learning might be modified or changed to hopefully bring about improvements in the quality of learning.



Carey, B. (2014) How We Learn, MacMillan Publishing

Covey, S. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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