MECE – 7 – Mental Models for Education

Pronounced ‘Mee-See,’ this is another fave from the world of consulting.

When mapping out a curriculum, assessment, taxonomy, decision or driver tree, consider whether its components as you’ve outlined them are Mutually Exclusive, as well as Collectively Exhaustive.

In other words, make sure your categories don’t overlap, and check they cover everything.


I use MindsetKnowledge and Craft as a taxonomy for teacher training.  Each of these breaks down further.

Mindset: Beliefs and behaviours (thanks to Matt Hood for that breakdown suggestion)

Knowledge: Theory, Subject, Pedagogy, Context

Context breaks down further still.

Context: Historical, Contemporary

At each stage, ideally, those boxes wouldn’t overlap, yet together they would incorporate everything a teacher needs to teach effectively.

Teacher Training.JPG


At each stage, ideally, there would be three boxes, and never more than five; remember, this is a tool to aid thinking and help make decisions.  The more complex it becomes, the less it will aid thought.

When thinking about observing lessons, you could try to observe planning, instruction, behaviour, assessment (thanks to Joe Kirby for this example.  To be clear, I’m not speaking about judging lessons through observation, here, merely thinking about things that one can possibly observe.)  Can you really observe planning, though?  It might be inferred, but it cannot be observed.  Alternatively it could be paired back to just Instruction and Behaviour.

What I like about the potential of this as a MECE example is that it could be considered Teacher Behaviour and Pupil Behaviour, since behaviour is ultimately the only thing that can be observed directly.

Teacher Behaviour:  Instruction, Assessment, Management

Pupil Behaviour: Compliance, Self-Direction

Teacher behaviour is therefore broken down into Instruction – things the teacher observably does to communicate ideas to the pupils – Assessment – things the teacher observably does to assess whether or not those ideas were communicated successfully – Management – things the teacher observably does to communicate directions to pupils, and maintain order.  Are there any things a teacher will do that don’t fit in these three boxes?  If so, the three are not Collectively Exhaustive.

Pupil behaviour is interesting.  Can you think of any pupil behaviours that are not compliance with teacher direction, or acted upon of their own direction?  Unless I’ve missed something, it’s a perfect dichotomy, and as an observer you are looking for the extent to which pupils comply with directions from the teacher, and the extent to which pupil actions outside of teacher-direction are good or poor choices.

Classroom Obs.JPG

When thinking about teaching, cognitive science currently considers all knowledge declarative or procedural.  No overlap between them, and if the models are correct, it shouldn’t be possible to think of an example of knowledge that is neither of the two.

I’m not saying that my examples above are perfect, and they might not even be frameworks that you would want to use, but I hope they are at least examples of how this kind of thinking can aid the structuring of complex systems, and in turn aid decision making.

I would recommend reading a few short resources here, here and here for further, and possibly better, examples of MECE from its traditional place in the world of business and management.

If anyone can think of better examples from the world of education, please share!





About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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3 Responses to MECE – 7 – Mental Models for Education

  1. Pingback: Overview – 0 – Mental Models for Education | …to the real.

  2. Pingback: Should we use questions to teach? – Part 2 | …to the real.

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