RCOstaff@rcowen.com 914-232-3903 or 800-262-0787

How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions

If any book can be described as a foundation for teaching, Made for Learning is that book!

This book is the result of 60 years of research and theory building by Australian educator Brian Cambourne, articulated and described with abundant classroom examples by Brian and his American co-author, educator and consultant, Debra Crouch.

Endorsements from:
• Regie Routman
• Dr. Mary Howard
• Maria Nichols

• Richard Allington
and more!

216 pages
Item #559
ISBN 978-1-878450-00-5

List Price:


Web/School Price
15% Discount:

plus shipping

School Orders for 10+ Copies 25% Discount: Use code MFLBulk10 or call the office during regular office hours 9-5 M-F (EST) 1-800-262-0787 or email Phyllis at: phyllisgreenspan@rcowen.com to process your order.


Regie Routman graciously reviewed the book and had this to say:
“Once in a great while a book comes along that upends our thinking
— challenging us to critically examine the effects of our literacy beliefs,
practices, and processes around teaching and learning.
Made for Learning is that breakthrough book.”

About the Authors


Brian Cambourne is presently a Principal Fellow at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He began teaching in 1956 at the age of 19 and spent nine years teaching in a mix of one-room schools and primary classrooms K-6 for the New South Wales Department of Education. In his tenth year of service for this department he entered the groves of Academe as a teacher educator at Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College. He completed his Ph.D at James Cook University in Nth Queensland, and was subsequently a Fullbright Scholar and a Post Doctoral Fellow at Harvard. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at the Universities of Illinois and Arizona. Since completing his doctoral studies (1972), Brian has been researching how learning, especially literacy learning, occurs. He has conducted this research in the naturalistic mode he prefers by sitting in classrooms for many hundreds of hours.

Experiences Over Time

The bio is spare, like a resume. To get a better feel for the way in which Brian’s experiences have influenced his beliefs and values, we encourage you to read Brian’s Story.


Debra Crouch works nationally as an independent literacy consultant, collaborating with districts and schools in designing professional learning opportunities to empower teachers, principals, and coaches as they envision instruction over time, across texts, and among practices. She has been involved in education for the past 32 years as a classroom teacher, coach, consultant, and author. She actively shares her thinking and practices through long-term professional learning opportunities with districts across the country serving children from diverse language and socioeconomic backgrounds. At Debra’s website, teachingdecisions.com, educators can view her videos and webinar series for Shared and Guided Reading.

Experiences Over Time

The bio is spare, like a resume. To get a better feel for the way in which Debra’s experiences have influenced her beliefs and values, we encourage you to read Debra’s Story.


If any book can be described as a foundation for teaching, Made for Learning is that book.

Made for Learning is the result of 60 years of research and theory building by Australian educator Brian Cambourne, articulated and described with abundant classroom examples by American educator Debra Crouch.

Three years of Zoom sessions made it possible for the two educators to collaborate on a regular basis, challenging and encouraging each other to understand Brian’s original work in novel and innovative ways. Through integrating the Conditions of Learning research with new theoretical understandings, the co-authors present insightful analysis of teacher decision-making and classroom practices. Made for Learning offers educators a well-thought-out and up-to-date exploration of learning and teaching.

The core of the book explores the multi-faceted processes underpinning learning to read and write. Built on Brian’s original research observations of young children learning to speak, the Conditions of Learning address the necessity of nurturing a responsive classroom environment for all learning to occur, whether that learning is virtual or in-person. This intentional culture for learning happens not in isolation but as part of an integrated whole. An addition to the theory that has blossomed since the publication of Brian’s first book in 1988 is a deeper understanding of the role of language in the learning process. How teachers interact with learners and the language they use has a resounding impact on the learning that occurs.

In Made for Learning the authors describe a Discourse of Meaning-Making and explain and illustrate how to make that discourse the dominant language of the classroom. When the Conditions are coupled with four Processes That Empower Learning, an extension of the theory in the last three decades, teacher decision-making promotes the active participation of learners in their own literate journey. How that active learning looks, sounds, and feels becomes tangible in the multitude of classroom examples found throughout the book.

These classroom examples bring the Conditions of Learning to life and are unpacked to explore and analyze the specific teaching decisions leading to student learning. The authors offer educators concrete tools to use the Conditions of Learning as a framework to explore their own practices to strengthen learning experiences for every student.

Regie Routman graciously reviewed the book and had this to say: “Once in a great while a book comes along that upends our thinking — challenging us to critically examine the effects of our literacy beliefs, practices, and processes around teaching and learning. Made for Learning is that breakthrough book.”


These six templates appear as an appendix at the end of the book. Three of the templates refer to lessons in Chapter 4, Chapter 7, and Chapter 8. In column 1 there is text that describes actions and interactions between and among the teacher with students. In column 2, the authors have identified particular teaching decisions. In column 3, the authors point out the impact of those decisions on particular conditions and processes as they relate to the children. What a teacher chooses to do and why she does it makes a difference.

One of the templates,written by Brian, illustrates how the theory might be applied to writing instruction. Use this as a model for what you would write as a way to apply the Conditions of Learning to any subject.

Two of the templates are writable, so the reader can extend the theory to her or his teaching. All of the templates can be downloaded to your computer.

Download for FREE – Select Below


As I began my teaching career in 1989, Pam Reed, my friend and colleague, and I discovered The Whole Story, Brian Cambourne’s first book describing the Conditions of Learning. We spent many evenings and weekends reading and talking together about the ideas in the book and how they might play out in our classrooms. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the beginning of a journey, one of discovering and articulating my true purpose in a classroom.

While my college degree and state certificate called out teaching as my profession, over time, I came to realize this wasn’t a complete representation of my work. Yes, I was a teacher in charge of a group of students. Yes, I structured my class to get the kids to do what I wanted them to do (most of the time!), which was basically what the units and teacher’s guides said. But, if someone had come into my classroom and actually asked me to describe how you teach someone to read, I’d have been hard pressed to do so.

So, confession: I became a professional development junkie. I’d venture from one professional development thing to another, each time, heading back to my own classroom, attempting to implement what I’d heard. I’d try something out, reflect on what I’d tried, and then make adjustments. And, soon, I’d head off to the next professional development session being offered, looking for answers. I made the mistakes we all make—too much of this, too little of that. As I practiced, though, and kept talking with colleagues, one line of thinking kept resurfacing and resonating no matter what new idea I tried—the Conditions of Learning.

Over time and through discussions, I began to appreciate the distinction between teaching and helping someone learn. And this line of thinking mattered tremendously. When the focus of my thinking was teaching, I thought first about what I would be doing in a lesson. My decisions led to less-than-productive practices: overreliance on teacher’s guides, telling-as-teaching, rewarding compliance and regurgitation of information, and rigid structures.

When learning led my thinking, my decisions became more learner-centered. I was guided by questions such as these: How to I support students to value and love learning? How do I build off of the curiosity and joy that accompanies a love of learning? What do my learners need from me in order to see themselves as capable and agentive? How do I design an environment to support this kind of learning? Once these questions emerged, my definition of myself as Teacher shifted. In a learning-centered classroom, I was, among other things, Kidwatcher, Designer, Facilitator, Guide, Coach, Fellow Learner.

Once this role and purpose emerged, I taught differently. Because, when instruction begins from a different perspective, one where we see children as made for learning, as our title says, we think, talk, and proceed in very different ways.

My self-talk began to sound something like this: Oh, if I have the kids read and write every day, that will give them lots of time to approximate…, and, Hmm, my responses should help the kids know what they’re doing well and what else is possible… (two of the eight Conditions are in bold, in case you aren’t familiar with them yet; two more are below). The Conditions even found their way into my parent sessions as I’d talk with moms and dads (and grandparents and others) about how my work was building on what they, their child’s first teachers, had already started. Noting the parent’s expectations (“Of course I knew they’d learn to talk.”) and the children’s employment (“They never stop talking!”) resonated with these caregivers. Over time, my work became more consistent and more firmly grounded in this theory of learning.

In 1993, I was fortunate to visit Sherryl Compston’s classroom at Mangere Bridge School in Auckland, New Zealand. Here, I experienced for myself how learner-centered practices flowed and grew. Sherryl shared the tools and structures and, most importantly, the attitudes that brought the Conditions to life. Another professional book came along that helped me understand how to further connect my practices and my beliefs, Joyful Learning in Kindergarten by Bobbi Fisher (1991). Bobbi, also a Cambourne follower, helped me learn to notice reading and writing behaviors on a continuum and to make Shared Reading and Shared Writing a central part of my reading, writing, and phonics instruction.

Today, I continue to align my beliefs and practices. As a full-time consultant, I work with educators across the United States as they strive to align their own beliefs and practices. In 2017, my colleagues Pat Eastman, Executive Director for Professional Development at Okapi Educational Publishing, and Cherissa Kreider-Beck, English Language Arts Coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education, and I designed our first annual literacy conference to support educators. For the three of us, Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning remain an underlying theory for learning and teaching. While many teachers we work with are aware of Gradual Release of Responsibility, fewer are aware of Conditions of Learning. And what we were experiencing in classrooms is a rigid application of Gradual Release. For example, some classrooms designate times as “I do,” where students take a passive observer role. We believe an understanding of Conditions of Learning supports teachers to recognize the active role of the learner in all components of instruction, regardless of the instructional approach.

So, we contacted Brian for assistance, and he encouraged us to write a piece to fit our needs, generously offering to provide feedback on what we wrote. Quickly, before I chickened out, I committed myself to writing a piece about the Conditions that Brian himself would read. Eventually, that piece became a coauthored article. Enter Brian’s idea for collaborating on a book, and the result is what you hold now, a collaboration of our latest thinking about learning and teaching.

Over and over, as I work with educators, I hear questions that begin How long

…, How often …, What do I do when…? There’s an old Peanuts cartoon where Sally, Charlie Brown’s little sister, excitedly heads off to school. In the last frame, she’s sitting at her desk and saying, “Here I am again—still looking for the answers.” Sound familiar? For many educators, professional learning is (as it once was for me) a quest for “answers,” a chance for someone to give us the “right” or “best” way to teach. But, while Brian and I facetiously ask the question, “Am I doing this right?” in Chapter 1, neither of us believes in “answers.”

My hope for readers of this book is that, through understanding the Conditions of Learning—whether it’s the first time hearing about them or it’s a revisit— educators will consider and reconsider what it is they believe about learning, decide whether and how their practices align with those beliefs, and, ultimately, trust themselves to make decisions that matter for their learners. To decide for themselves: What is the distinction between learning and teaching?


In 1988, I published my first book, The Whole Story: Natural Learning and the Acquisition of Literacy in the Classroom.

After three decades, I still remember putting a lot of thought into my title and subtitle. The reference to The Whole Story was intended to be a clever contextual pun that reflected the competing theories of literacy learning being hotly debated at the time. In the 1980s, I’d developed a professional reputation as an advocate of a holistic approach to teaching and learning literacy. The intended message embedded in my main title was: This book will deliver the real or full (i.e., “whole”) story about holistic theories of learning and teaching.

There were two intended messages embedded in the subtitle. The first was metaphorical: This book will tell the whole story by explaining how a theory called Natural Learning will “liberate” teachers who had become “prisoners” of an outdated and flawed theory of learning that created barriers to effective learning.

The second was more practical in nature: Teachers who are prepared to adopt the principles of Natural Learning and apply them to their classroom practices will remove these barriers, thus making learning to read and write less complicated. Both messages, I felt, were powerful and invigorating!

Essentially, the overall purpose of the book was to persuade teachers that the knowledge they needed to “acquire” in order to apply the principles of holistic teaching to their classrooms could be found in three overlapping domains of research and theory, namely:

• the conditions of learning that supported young children learning to talk;

• effective reading and writing processes; and

• how to turn these conditions and processes into effective pedagogy.

Ultimately, the structure and content of the book reflected my attempt to develop a coherent and cohesive amalgam of the complex principles inherent in these three domains of concern. As a professional book, it was relatively successful. It stayed in print until 1995, and the royalties helped me pay off my mortgage a few years earlier than I expected.

So, after thirty-plus years since publication, why do I think a new book is necessary? The simple answer is that while I still believe the theory of learning and the underlying processes of reading and writing I presented in The Whole Story are valid, I’ve learned, in the intervening years, that many readers found it difficult to turn these theories of learning into classroom practice. While teachers would nod enthusiastically about the content of the book and assure me they “got” it, when I observed in their classrooms, I found significant mismatches between what they claimed to understand about learning and their classroom practices. Why? What made turning the Conditions of Learning into effective classroom practice so difficult?

As I’ve continued to spend time in classrooms and engage in conversations with other educators, I’ve come to believe that a basic tenet of my original thinking was inadequate. In 1988, although I was aware of how language choice could shape the intended meanings an author wanted a text to communicate, I was theoretically ignorant about how the deep, almost covert, metaphors embedded in discourse could affect thinking and behavior. And my inadequate thinking was perpetuated by my choice of language and discourse. Over the course of the past thirty years, what I’ve come to believe is that, as long as we (teachers and myself) continue to speak of knowledge as something “acquired,” we will continue to teach in ways that reflect a transmission model of learning, regardless of our voiced philosophical viewpoints. If we truly believe in constructivist models of learning and holistic models of teaching, we must also believe that learners construct their own meanings; they don’t “acquire” them. And, if we believe that learners don’t “acquire” meanings, then our Discourse of Acquisition must also change. If we continue to talk of knowledge and meanings as though they are “stuff” we can acquire, our embedded thinking about learning and teaching will also remain unchanged. The way we think and talk about something—the deep, conceptual metaphors we use to explain the world to ourselves—is wired into our brains (Lakoff, 2012, 2014; Hebb, 1949). These metaphors affect what we perceive, how we view learners, the ways we act, and, ultimately, how we teach. To truly change our teaching, we must also change our discourse.

Which brings us to this book, Made For Learning. Like my first book, this title took a long time to emerge. Like my first book, the title Made For Learning is intended to be a clever contextual pun that reflects the competing theories of literacy learning being hotly debated now. However, this time, the title resulted from a long period of collaborative discussion with my coauthor, Debra Crouch. After reviewing a wide range of research from multiple discipline areas, we identified the core belief, the axiomatic assumption underpinning how we believed classrooms should be organized to ensure that effective, uncomplicated, and durable learning can occur. It was this: As a species, we’ve been designed to construct and share complex knowledge using symbols. We’re the only species on Earth that is capable of doing this. We can’t help it. We have literally been “Made for Learning.”

In this book, Debra Crouch and I set out to help teachers understand what this fundamental assumption means for teaching and learning. To achieve this, we offer a path to changing the inner dialogue of teachers—from a Discourse of Acquisition to a Discourse of Meaning-Making. What I now believe was missing from The Whole Story was an understanding that, as well as changing our theory of learning, we must also consciously change our discourse about learning, teaching, and assessment. In addition, we must ensure our students learn to use a new discourse to think about their work. The work of a learner—in literacy or math or science or history—is, quite simply, making meaning. The discourse of classrooms must reflect this belief.


“I traditionally recommend specific audiences for books at the end of my reviews. However, I feel compelled to begin this piece with a rousing endorsement. This past year has been a challenge for many teachers and students. Yet, challenge can be the origin of change. If you want to continue to change, to hone your practice, to transform your craft, I passionately recommend that you read Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions by Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne. This book will remind you of why you were called to become an educator.

The esteemed authors, through their constructivist lens and grounded in 60 years of research, examine the holistic principles that define exemplary practice, regardless of grade or content area. They explore the processes which underpin learning to read and write. They prompt us to reflect on our own instructional decisions in a way that is honest and mindful. If, at our core, we truly believe that authentic erudition is a result of constructing knowledge, and not transmitting information, we must consider how the following three intersecting domains can reform, and consciously change, how we teach. 

• The conditions of learning that supported young children learning to talk;

• Effective reading and writing processes; and

• How to turn these conditions and processes into effective pedagogy (Crouch and Cambourne, 2020, p. XIII)

We engage in a deep exploration of Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning, which were built on his decades of research observing how children learned to speak. The Conditions of Learning are supported by the belief that a nurturing classroom environment, regardless of the mode of instruction, is essential for learning to occur. The Conditions include Immersion, Demonstration, Engagement, Expectation, Responsibility, Approximation, Employment, and Response. When we seamlessly integrate the Conditions with Processes That Empower Learning (Transformation, Discussion/Reflection, Application, and Evaluation), the result is learning. “Learning is our ever- changing knowledge, understandings, feelings, values, and skills regarding what is to be learned” (Crouch and Cambourne, 2020, p. 26).

The authors share powerful classroom vignettes that further deepen our understanding of how the Conditions operate synergistically and holistically in practice. Crouch and Cambourne provide templates designed to support our own work of applying the theory to our practice. They encourage us to reimagine our fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning. They show us how to shift our discourse from one that is focused on acquisition to one that is centered on meaning-making. If you believe your role is not to teach textbooks, but to teach students; if you believe that we must return to the why behind what we do, if you want to challenge or change your theory of learning, Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions is for you.”

Dr. Stacy A. Griffin
About the Reviewer: Dr. Stacy A. Griffin is an educator, literacy consultant, and author. She is an adjunct professor at California State University, Long Beach and an Instructional Leader at Project Social Justice through Language, Literacy and Leadership at UCLA Center X. She has worked in urban communities for over 20 years, provides on-going professional development for educators and administrators, and has presented research at the local, state, and national levels. You may contact Stacy at Stacy.Griffin@csulb.edu

The California Reader
Spring 2021 • VOL. 54, NO. 2 39


Reprinted from Regie Routman’s blog, What I’m Reading (http://regieroutman.org/blog/what-im-reading-september-2020/)

“Additionally, a new professional book deserves special mention and attention. Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions by Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne is a must-read for all educators. I happily endorsed this master work after reading the manuscript in advance of publication. My full endorsement follows:

Once in a great while a book comes along that upends our thinking–challenging us to critically examine the effects of our literacy beliefs, practices, and processes around teaching and learning. Made for Learning is that breakthrough book. Renowned educators Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch have teamed up to write an inspiring, research-based text brimming with fresh thinking and practical ideas. Thirty years ago, I encountered and embraced Brian Cambourne’s groundbreaking Conditions of Learning (The Whole Story)as foundational to responsive and responsible teaching and learning. Now, happily for all of us, Cambourne and Crouch have revisited, revised, and expanded that cohesive theory of learning in their thoughtful, wise, and much needed text.

Made for Learning, above all, honors and supports the dignity, potential, and intelligence of learners. Through explicit demonstrations and discourse in collaborative classrooms—along with vivid vignettes–the authors expertly guide us to engage and immerse all learners in rich language and content, purposeful discussion, and whole relevant learning contexts–not lessons broken up into bits and pieces. We learn the necessity and actions for intentionally crafting instructional decisions that ensure learners have opportunities to try and apply what’s been taught. We come to understand and prioritize that learners must take on the role of active meaning-makers and problem solvers—what Cambourne and Crouch call “doers.” These doers come to confidently interpret, evaluate, and transform their learning worlds. What could be better than that! Made for Learning brilliantly illuminates and makes possible a joyful literacy and language path for all learners.”

Regie Routman—Author of Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for ALL Learners


“I read Made for Learning from the lens of a reader of Brian Cambourne’s 1988 book, The Whole Story. I was instantly struck by how Brian and Debra infused a deeper level of understanding that breathed new life into The Conditions of Learning. They describe Made for Learning as the first step on a journey (p. 7), but I see it as an invitation to glide joyfully across the conditions of learning through the words that will illuminate a pathway to possible. Through this invitational journey, we can begin to re-envision a teaching/learning process that works in concert from both sides. Made for Learning has the potential to transform our practices as children reap the benefits of our professional metamorphosis where each of us can honor the conditions where they matter most – in the company of children.”

Dr. Mary Howard—Author of RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (Heinemann, 2009) Moving Forward with RTI: Reading and Writing Activities for Every Instructional Setting (Heinemann, 2010) Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters (Heinemann, 2012)


“This new book includes actual lessons, actual dialogue, as teachers and learners, come together to solve problems. These lessons are useful and present teachers with options they should consider when working with students. However, the book intentionally lingers in theory to help readers to understand why we do what we do in the ways we do. I will suggest that teachers read this book with a colleague, a colleague you will want to spend time with discussing the ideas presented. Always remember that it is your classroom, as well as your responsibility, to develop the literacy proficiencies of each of those children sitting in your classroom. Moving away from creating a classroom in which teachers do the majority of the talking and, therefore, the thinking, toward a classroom where the children are the ones talking and thinking will likely take time. But you can start tomorrow in shifting your classroom and your lessons to places where everyone is engaged and everyone is thinking – is learning.”

Richard Allington


“This work has brought me back to the core of what I believe, has me reflecting on my professional journey and the degree to which I hold true to my beliefs, and wondering how I might do better.

How might our teaching change if we truly operate from the belief that children are made for learning? If we trust in that belief enough to cultivate the conditions for learners to thrive, and then design our teaching as a thoughtful, responsive act? This is the challenge that Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne lay before us – a challenge based on solid theory brought to life through examples of intentional teaching decisions, the combination of which makes the complex attainable, and the result essential. Simply put, Made For Learning offers insight into the conditions and processes that capitalize on children’s inherent ability to learn.”

Maria Nichols—Author of Growing Bigger Ideas


“Take a deep dive into the Conditions of Learning with Brian Cambourne and Debra Crouch as they demonstrate how teachers become meaning-makers alongside their students. Filled with action-research, theory into practice, and concrete classroom examples they show us why a shift in our pedagogical thinking is Made for Learning.”

Andy Schoenborn—Author of Creating Confident Writers: For High School, College, and Life


“I can sum this book up in three words, practical, relevant, and informative. This book is a perfect blend of complex theory with practical applications and examples of real life teachers, students and instructional coaching. The introduction has the recalibrating advice we as educators need to remember to focus on the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ of what we do. Attending to the title of the book, Made for Learning, this text is built around the idea that EVERY child is ‘made for learning’ and provides deep knowledge and ideas on what are the conditions we need to make sure are in place to support our learners. This scholarly text is a must have for new and seasoned educators, administrators and educational decision-makers.”

Nilaja Taylor


“Hi Debra,
My aunt was a teacher and curriculum director for many years and I was able to spend time with her during Christmas and the book (Made for Learning) prompted a lot of great discussions between us around constructivism and best practices.

I feel like the book is the perfect balance between theory and practicality. It made me realize (in a good way) how much I still have to learn about being a truly effective teacher. Which, I think, is one of the best things about teaching–that it’s not something we can ever “master” and there is always more to learn.

In a way, everything I’ve learned from working with you in person and from reading this book has given me freedom as a teacher. When I’m able to pull myself out of the structure and routines and minute details of everyday teaching life for a while and be reminded of what learning and literacy truly are about and what their purposes are, it gives me the perspective I need to be more responsive and to ask myself what it is my students actually need in the moment rather than just moving along to the next thing in the curriculum. That may seem obvious, but it’s been a challenge and a gift for me at this stage in my career.”

Sophie Edwards
1st Grade Teacher Julian Charter School


“This recent release from Richard Owen Publishing expands on theories of naturalistic learning through presenting a viable model for creating the conditions for learning in constructivist classrooms. Here, relationships among the eight conditions and four processes of Cambourne’s model are brought to life through authentic examples. Central concepts of the model are clearly defined and situated in relation to established theory. Each chapter celebrates learning in classrooms facilitated by teachers who view learners as capable by making visible the professional decisions that allow such classrooms to flourish. Appendices provide templates to support application of the Conditions for Learning in a variety of contexts, including close examination of teacher decision-making. Made for Learning holds potential for reshaping education in ways that truly value both learning and teaching.”

Kathryn Allen, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh


“Over the last several months we have been reading and studying the text, Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions, by Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne. We give this book our highest recommendation for every educator. If you would like to join us for a virtual book study, please go here for more information.

The text, Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions (Crouch & Cambourne, 2020) opens with these words: “Learning is a much broader category than education,” a quote by David N. Perkins from his 2009 publication, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (2009). Crouch and Cambourne’s newest book asks educators to examine their own beliefs about theories of teaching and to look for mismatches between theory and instructional practice. While the book focuses primarily on literacy learning, the content easily applies to all areas of learning. The text lays out the Conditions of Learning derived from Brian Cambourne’s research from which you can think more deeply about how theory and practice work together for effective teaching and learning.

Students’ language experiences are a key factor in literacy learning, but an educator’s instructional language can have just as great an impact on a student’s learning. Crouch & Cambourne (2020) note that, “Mismatches between theory and practices often surface and manifest in the language we use in our interactions with our learners.” These types of mismatches create unfavorable conditions in students’ learning environments. To optimize learning conditions, teachers must fully understand their own philosophies for teaching and learning. The authors discuss two types of Discourse, “the theory of the varied relationships within a particular way of… thinking and behaving (Crouch & Cambourne, 2020).”

Students’ language experiences are a key factor in literacy learning, but an educator’s instructional language can have just as great an impact on a student’s learning. Crouch & Cambourne (2020) note that, “Mismatches between theory and practices often surface and manifest in the language we use in our interactions with our learners.” These types of mismatches create unfavorable conditions in students’ learning environments. To optimize learning conditions, teachers must fully understand their own philosophies for teaching and learning. The authors discuss two types of Discourse, “the theory of the varied relationships within a particular way of… thinking and behaving (Crouch & Cambourne, 2020).”

Discourse of Acquisition

– Characterized by language and behaviors consistent with the theory that learning is a thing to be done, a task that can be measured. A cycle of teaching and assessment that collect data without moving learning forward. The academic metaphor is that of a vessel needing to be filled.

Discourse of Meaning-Making

– Characterized by language and behaviors consistent with the theory that all learning is derived by constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing meaning, rather than the belief that meaning is an entity that exists statically. It is often referred to as a constructivist theory. This reframing leads to a conceptual metaphor that “knowledge-building is a continuous process involving human meaning-making, using abstract symbol systems (Crouch & Cambourne, 2020).”

Educators must understand the theories of learning and develop their own understandings. For effective instruction, we must ensure that our teaching behaviors and language are consistent with sound theory and philosophy. The authors refer to this as Discourse, and they call upon us to do our due diligence in learning the theory behind what we do and exude that theory in our day to day practices.

Conditions of Learning

In 1988, Brian Cambourne used his own years of research and data to identify the conditions under which complex learning could thrive. For the next nearly twenty years, Cambourne and his team analyzed the ways in which teachers implemented the the conditions, specifically for literacy instruction. After decades of research and analysis, Cambourne has concluded that one major barrier to optimal complex learning for students is a disconnect or dissonance between teachers’ philosophies and their actions and language in the classroom. “Our discourse, used in both reflection and discussion, greatly impacts the instructional decisions we make. This mismatch in our beliefs and our discourse also communicates mixed messages to the students we teach regarding their purpose in the classroom (Crouch & Cambourne, 2020).”

Immersion: allows the learner to understand and approximate within the complete picture of what is to be learned.

Demonstration: allows students plenty of opportunities to know, understand, and apply skills.

Engagement: students understand the importance of what they are learning and to see themselves as “doers.”

Expectation: students develop a belief system of their capabilities based on how they view themselves and the language used by their surrounding educators and significant others. Responsibility: learners to become independent when educators trust them to make their own learning decisions without dependence on the teacher or others.

Employment: learners have time to to practice and apply their evolving skill development.

Approximation: learners make attempts with the expectation of responses that will honor their approximations and nudge their understanding further.

Response: honest and positive communication between educators and students with no hidden agendas.

In order for the conditions to be effective, Crouch and Cambourne (2020) assert that there are four Processes that Empower Learning that must coexist within and around the Conditions to “support the durability and transferability of what is learned.”





Crouch and Cambourne (2020) explain that when the Conditions of Learning are employed with the Processes that Empower Learning, they embody a balanced pedagogy, or a balanced literacy classroom.

Theory of Learning Shapes Instruction

The authors call upon educators to consider developing our understanding of theory, and using it to change our instructional practices and language. They provide the following example of mismatches between philosophy and practice, “…a teacher may say to students, “When you finish your work, you will have time to read your book.” This language positions “reading our book” as something less important than “work.”” When evaluating practices and resources, Crouch and Cambourne ask us to consider the following questions: How does what I’m hearing affect the Conditions of Learning? Does it encourage true engagement or is it based on compliance? Does it offer students space to approximate and take responsibility for decisions leading to meaning-making? Do the demonstrations I’m being encouraged to provide build on the students’ experience of wholes so what is being taught is meaningful? We must determine which daily experiences are the most meaningful for our students and ensure that those experiences occur every day. Once those experiences are prioritized, we can make decisions about the accompanying physical settings, routines, and instructional language that create the ideal conditions for learning. Crouch and Cambourne (2020) ask us “to be intentional about our linguistic choices and sensitive to the worthwhileness of those who inhabit our learning settings.”

Using the Conditions of Learning

Crouch and Cambourne offer an in-depth look at each Condition and Process and conclude with recommendations on how to use them to examine our teaching decisions and reflect in a meaningful way. Professional exercises of reflection and templates for exploring practices are provided, however, the authors emphasize that there is not a “right” way to use the Conditions for Learning to influence your instruction, rather, “the goal is to strengthen the learning setting by bringing intentionality to decisions that make learning more likely to occur (Crouch and Cambourne, 2020).”

Debra Crouch and Brian Cambourne’s latest book is an essential read for any educator, in-service or pre-service, who is interested in a deep understanding of pedagogy straight from the research and researcher. We strongly encourage educators to develop their beliefs about literacy teaching and learning that are based on sound theory. In an era of teaching products and heated debates, we must do our due diligence when it comes to correlating our philosophy with our practice.”

ON MARCH 18, 2021


As a young, inexperienced teacher I was continually surprised by students who couldn’t seem to learn or understand the simplest concepts associated with reading, writing, spelling, or math I tried to teach them, yet somehow, could not only learn, but could apply complex knowledge and skills in the world outside the classroom. Even students who had been classified as “learning disabled” or “intellectually handicapped” would continually surprise me. One twelve year old boy to whom I couldn’t teach even the simplest aspects of arithmetic was almost unbeatable in card games which required keeping count of cards which had been played. He also displayed an intuitive ability for working out the probabilities of cards being held by others and /or still being in the deck. Then there were boys who couldn’t seem to remember how words were spelled, or their “times tables” facts from one day to the next, but who could remember and recount the year by year scores and batting averages of their cricket heroes. As well I encountered many immigrant children who would begin Australian schooling with no English, to whom I could not seem to teach even the simplest rules of grammar, who in the world outside of school could translate across two (sometimes three) languages for their non-English speaking parents when signing rental leases or applying for a driver’s licence, or social security allowances, and so on.

I was equally surprised by students who displayed conceptual and procedural knowledge which I had not previously taught them or ever mentioned or alluded to in class. Conventionally spelled words which I’d never taught or drawn attention to would just “appear” in their writing. So too would punctuation conventions such as speech marks, capital letters, paragraph indentation, and full stops (that is “periods” in USA).

Both groups of these students could obviously learn. They consistently demonstrated control of a multitude of complex skills and facts that enabled them to do a range of complex things, both inside and outside the typical school setting. Furthermore they seemed to have learned these things without obvious effort or awareness of what they were learning, or even that they were actually learning.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. It conflicted with what I’d been taught about “learning” and “intelligence” in my pre-service teacher education courses. According to my pre-service mentors “poor learners” were just that – “poor learners”. Such “poor learning” should have manifested itself across any and all learning they attempted. If they couldn’t learn the simple things about reading, writing, spelling, maths, etc, that I tried to teach them, they certainly should NOT have been able to learn anything more complex in the outside world. Nor should they have been able to learn “school-type” skills and knowledge without these being explicitly taught or at least alluded to.

Because of this theoretical confusion and despair, my professional self-esteem was seriously challenged. The lessons I spent countless hours diligently preparing were based on a theory of learning that was (allegedly) “scientifically based”. Hadn’t psychology conclusively proven that both human and animal learning was merely a form of habit formation? (Cambourne , 2010). That it could be scientifically controlled and manipulated if certain principles of stimulus presentation, reinforcement, and punishment were rigidly enforced?

After many years of compliant acceptance of this confusion I decided to study more closely the different types of complex human learning which regularly occurred outside school settings. (Resnick, 1987) Perhaps there were implications for my classroom practice to be gleaned from studying examples of “out-of-school” complex learning?

Here’s a (very) brief summary of what I learned from this inquiry.

A (Very) Brief Summary What I Learned About “Out-of-School” Learning.

While I learned a great deal about the complex learning which children and adults are capable of outside the formal school setting, (Cambourne, 2009. ) two facts stood out:

(i) Learning one’s native language is a universal example of complex “out-of school” learning.

(ii) Learning the oral language of the culture into which one has been born is a stunning intellectual achievement, of incredible complexity. It involves fine degrees of perceptual discrimination. It depends upon abstract levels of transfer and generalization being continually made. It demands that incredible amounts be stored in memory for instant retrieval. It necessitates high degrees of automaticity of very complex processes. Despite this complexity, as a learning enterprise, it is almost universally successful, extremely rapid, usually effortless, painless, and furthermore, it’s extremely durable.

I realised that the range of cognitive skills and abilities needed to learn to talk were the same skills and abilities that my students needed in order to learn what I was trying to teach them in reading, writing, and spelling. Didn’t literacy learners need to discriminate fine degrees of similarity and difference between the visual and auditory shapes and sounds associated with reading, writing, and spelling? Didn’t they need to be able to generalise, transfer abstract grammatical, morphological, and phonological rules and exceptions across all the meanings they constructed while reading, writing, or spelling? Didn’t they have to store this enormous range of semantic, syntactic, grapho-phonic knowledge in their memories? Be able to retrieve and use this knowledge quickly and automatically?

Therefore, since all the (so-called) “poor learners” I’d met in all the classes I’d taught had learned to talk, (some were bi-lingual), shouldn’t they have the full range of cognitive abilities to learn the much simpler literacy skills and knowledge I was trying to teach them?

One conclusion I drew from these realisations was that anyone who had learned to talk the language of the culture into which they’d been born has sufficient cognitive “power”, (“abilities”, “skills”, “machinery”, “know-how”. etc) to learn to read and write.

How could my students master something as complex as learning to talk so successfully, so easily, and so painlessly when I couldn’t teach them much simpler things? Could it be that (horror of horrors) the “scientifically based” theory of learning I used as a framework for the lessons I prepared was flawed?

I decided to do some research which might help me find out.

Little did I realise I would be engaged is this research for the next five decades.

A (Very) Condensed Summary of Fifty Years of Inquiry

Initially I spent almost three years unobtrusively ‘bugging’ (with a wireless radio transmitter) and generally ‘spying’ on urban and rural toddlers as they interacted with parents, siblings, peers, neighbours , relatives, teachers, and strangers in the course of their waking days. (Cambourne, 1972)

The data I collected comprised whole days of audio recordings of the language which these children used and/or overheard as they interacted with the various agents they encountered in natural, experimenter-free environments from when they awoke in the morning till they went to bed at night. These data were transcribed into thousands of pages of written text. These “raw” language data were complemented by “specimen records” (i.e. rich field notes) which described both the non-linguistic behaviour and the contexts in which the language occurred. (Ref) Ecological psychologists describe this range and type of data as a ‘rich archival lode’ which can be ‘mined’ again and again for different purposes. (Heft, 2001)

In the course of the next two decades I re-mined ‘this archival lode’ several times. Once was to map and describe the extent, nature and patterns of verbal interaction children engaged in across different settings (Cambourne, 1972) On another occasion I mapped and described the range and types metaphors children used and/or overheard. (ARGC Report, 1980, Australian Government).

The third (and most significant) “re-mining” venture I undertook was to re-analyse these data to see if I could identify any patterns of possible ecological, social, emotional, cultural, (or any other) “factors” or “conditions” which MIGHT be associated with, or support the development (i.e. “learning”) of language.

About three years later I’d eventually identified a tentative set of such “conditions”. (Cambourne, 1984). During this period some academic colleagues challenged my tentative theories which forced me to revisit and check them. Luke et al (1989) Cambourne (1989).

I also continually cross-checked and modified these tentative “conditions” against the ever increasing research and theories of language development that were constantly being published in the scholarly journals of the time.

I took this tentative set of “conditions” to K-6 teachers in schools near my university and invited them to show me how they might put them into practice in their daily literacy sessions. I requested the privilege of being a participant observer of their efforts. Fortunately most accorded me this privilege over the next seven years.

During this period I again used the methods of naturalistic inquiry (Guba and Lincoln 1990) and ethnographic participant observation (Heath , 1983) to observe and document what happened in their classrooms. I accumulated hundreds of more hours of video and audio records of teachers and students in classrooms. I had these transcribed into thousands of more pages of data. I continued to take field notes of the behaviour in these classrooms. I spent hundreds of hours retrospectively interviewing teachers and students about the content in the audio and video records and the field notes I took. I also photocopied all the documents teachers and students produced in the course of the lessons I observed.

Seven years later I felt secure that I had an understanding of two issues I’d been trying to resolve for many years, namely:

(i) How cognitively immature human children could be so successful at learning something as complex any one (or more) of the thousands of languages which are currently (or have ever been) spoken on earth.

(ii) How to use what I learned from (i) above to inform teaching practice.


Cambourne, B.L. (1972) A Naturalistic Study Of The Language
Performance Of Grade 1 Rural And Urban School Children. Unpublished
Ph.D Thesis, James Cook University, Qld, Australia

Cambourne, B.L. (1984) Language, Learning and Literacy (Ch 2). In Butler, A & Turbill, J. Toward a Reading Writing Classroom. Rozelle, N.S.W. : Primary English Teaching Association,
Cambourne, B.L. (1989) Look What They’ve Done to my Song, Ma: A Reply to Luke, Baty & Stehbens. English in Australia No 90 December pp 13-22

Cambourne, B. L. (2009) Revisiting the concept of “natural learning”. In Changing Literacies for Changing Times; Hoffman, J. V. & Goodman, Y. M., Eds. Routledge: New York, pp 125-145.

Cambourne, B. L. (2010). From learning as habit-formation to learning as meaning-making: how Harry Pope changed my (professional) life. In P. L. Anders (Eds.), Defying Convention, Inventing the Future in Literacy Research and Practice (pp. 116-125). New York: Routledge. (ISBN: 9780805863413)

Heath, S.B. (1983) Ways with Words. New York:

Cambridge University Press.

Heft, H. (2001) Ecological Psychology in Context . Taylor & Francis Inc Mahwah, USA

Luke, A.,Baty, A. & Stehbens, \C. (1989) ‘Natural’ Conditions for Language Learning: A Critique. English In Australia No 89 Sep 1989


Resnick,L. (1987) Learning in School And Out: AERA Presidential Address. Educational Researcher, Vol.16,No.9.(Dec.,1987)pp.13-20

[Available on-line: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-189X%28198712%2916%3A9%3C13%3AT1PALI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-XEducationalResearcheriscurrentlypublishedbyAmericanEducationalResearchAssociation.%5D


We have prepared two versions of the Book Study Guide. Both Guides are intended to be thought provoking and discussion promoting for groups of educators who are reading Made for Learning: How the Conditions of Learning Guide Teaching Decisions. The difference is in the discussion regarding organizing for a book study — suggested Structures for Book Study and Nurturing Conditions of Learning for Adults — which appears only in the Guide for Facilitators.

The bulk of both Guides is the content related to the body of the book. For each chapter there is:

• A brief Synopsis of the chapter,

• A collection of Big Ideas in the chapter,

• A collection of all of the ‘Thinking about Our Own Meaning-Making’ questions that appear in the book, and

• Action Steps for Application

The last two components include space for typing notes into the Guide. Both Guides can be downloaded at no charge to your computer.

Click for FREE Download
Book Study Guide for Participants

Click for FREE Download
Book Study Guide for Facilitators


In Mary Howard’s perceptive blog post about Made for Learning, she pulled this list of takeaways from the book. An important (and incomplete) list of major points embedded in the text that lend support to their argument about how we should be looking and learning and teaching. See Mary’s Blog (https://literacylenses.com/2020/09/made-for-learning-how-the-conditions-of-learning-guide-teaching-decisions)

• Learning is not “stuff” given to a child. Learning is the totality of the meanings constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed by a learner. This learning drives teaching decisions, not the other way around.

Nature has already worked out a “fail-safe” pedagogy for ensuring newborns will learn how to make meaning using oral language. This fail-safe pedagogy involves certain conditions being present which nurture oral language development. Written language is a different form of language and is learned under similar Conditions of Learning.

All learners have the potential to learn. When teachers structure an environment bringing the Conditions of Learning to life, they support this potential to develop. Teachers’ beliefs about learners, and learning in general, determine opportunities that are provide for those learners.

A shift in belief and language by teachers and students to one that aligns with constructivist pedagogy is necessary for ensuing student learning that is “fail-safe.” This shift necessitates moving from a Discourse of Acquisition, where learning viewed as “stuff” to be transferred from a teacher to a student, to a Discourse of Meaning-Making, where learning is viewed as meanings constructed by a learner.

Teachers in constructivist classrooms organize time and resources in particular ways to encourage approximations of and responsibility for what is being learned. They respond to learners’ attempts in ways that communicate unconditional expectations and beliefs in the learner’s abilities. This in turn supports true student engagement. Constructivist learning settings support M. A. K. Halliday’s belief that we learn language, through language, and about language, SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Unless we examine our own belief system and language, we will never fully understand why we do what we do in the way we do it. We will not understand why certain instruction works and, even more crucially, what to do when it doesn’t. The Conditions of Learning can serve as a framework in this exploration of practice.


The Teachers Tool Kit for Literacy Podcast (Australia)

How can can teachers develop a set of conditions of learning in the classroom that lead to greater student engagement and improved outcomes? Many school leaders and teachers are grappling with this, and wondering whether a program could bring the solution, or whether there’s a way to construct the learning with students.

To talk about his Conditions For Learning, we welcome back to the podcast Dr. Cambourne, associate professor and Principal Fellow at the University of Wollongong in NSW.  Brian is one of Australian’s most eminent researchers of literacy and learning. Brian’s national and international scholarship has earned him many prestigious 

awards, including being inducted into the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame, and the Outstanding Educational Achievement Award by the Australian College of Educators.


PEBC Podcasts

The Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC), established in 1983, works in Colorado and across the nation to prepare outstanding new teachers, help practicing educators become exceptional, and shape policies that foster vibrant growth and lasting student success.  PEBC’s Michelle Morris Jones connects with Debra and Brian to identify and explore the Conditions of Learning and learners as “doers.”  In the second podcast they unpack the ways these Conditions are more relevant today than ever before.

Ed Tech Podcasts

Ed Tech is part of the San Diego County Office of Education. They work with schools to help educators with new practices combining the latest technology, educational standards, and goals.  In this series of seven Ed Tech podcasts, join Dr. Alicia Gallegos Butters, Dr. Michanne Hoctor Thompson, Pamela Rabin, Cherissa Kreider Beck, and other guests as they explore reflective conversations about making effective teaching decisions and the driving beliefs and practices that underly teacher practice and technology integration.  Individual chapters are identified and examined in depth.  There is a BONUS Episode featuring Debra and Brian in a discussion about how the book came to be.



Matt Renwick
Read by Example Podcast


Dr. Sam Bommarito Video Interview

Share this: