The Learning Value of Exemplars

From Novice to Expert Thinking

Bringing our learners’ ability to demonstrate their understanding up to the level of what you think success looks like is the central task of the educator.  As experts, we can forget how difficult learning our material for the first time can be, and how many of the foundational aspects of our expertise are in fact not as obvious to the novice as they feel they are to us.

One common source of struggle for the novice is a misunderstanding of what success actually looks like. Even if you provide learners with detailed feedback after-the-fact, they often don’t process it or know how to apply it to future tasks.


  • To give learners the clearest path to success, consider providing your learners with exemplars that meet your expectations or examples of performance at different levels of qualityIf you are teaching a physical task, you can demonstrate the sequence of the task at various levels of completion and ask your learners to evaluate it. In the classroom you can have your students “grade” examples of previous student work individually and in groups.
  • Conclude the activity by detailing how you as the educator apply criteria to various examples of learner performance. This allows students to see inside the thought process of the educator, compare their views to yours, and apply their new understanding to their own work.



Hendry, G. D., & Jukic, K. (2014). Learning about the quality of work that teachers expect: Students’ perceptions of exemplar marking versus teacher explanation. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 11(2).