Designing Educational Experiences for the Liminal Space

Engineering learning experiences that extend the students and transport them through liminal thresholds are a critical part of the teacher’s role. These experiences enable students to gain fresh and novel beliefs, perspectives, and frameworks while discarding previous ideologies or conceptual understandings. This, in essence, is the crux of transformational learning.


“Stories play a crucial role in the psychological, social, and cognitive development of children” (Creighton, 1997, p. 438). Developing critical literacy within the language arts program can give students a platform where previous assumptions and beliefs can be dismantled and new perspectives and understandings can be generated (Creighton, 1997).

By providing and examining literature that portrays various social perspectives such as age, race, ethnicity and culture, teachers can facilitate critical reflection and the questioning of norms, causing students to reconfigure or permanently alter their beliefs and perspectives.

Many teachers are now using multi-view social issues books (Lewison and Harste, 2000) that “deal with the tough, gritty, social and political issues” (p. 8) in the primary classroom. These ambiguous, open-ended books invite discussion about subjects such as fairness and justice, the voice of the marginalized, and social action. Multi-view social issues books lead the students to experience the liminal where “social constructions are in flux” (Lewison & Harste, 2000, p. 19).

Similarly, literature that contains unresolved endings or elicit multiple interpretations (Lewison and Harste, 2000) can be used to provoke new thoughts, beliefs, and understandings that represent a transformational experience.


Figure 1. Quadriplegic Joni Earekson Tada painting.

On a less controversial level, reading biographies can also give the reader a glimpse into another person’s world and viewpoint. For example, Joni, an autobiography by quadriplegic and author Joni Eareckson (1976) can challenge the reader’s perspective on physical disabilities and give the reader an insight as to the realities and outlook of a quadriplegic, allowing a transformational understanding to also occur.


Introducing troublesome content knowledge or exploring common misconceptions (Meyer et al., 2010) in maths and science lessons can also be a way of engineering the students’ entry into the liminal space. Examination of abstract and difficult concepts (such as energy, condensation or probability) or the act of hypothesizing and constructing new conceptual understandings in science (Meyer et al., 2010) are critical components of the curriculum.


Figure 2. Energy.

Whilst the students are gaining mastery of the subject matter or concept, they are simultaneously learning to deal with the new or the unknown and experience the liminal domain.


Figure 3. Transformation (Meyer et al., 2010, p. xii)

As shown in the above diagram, through the liminal processes of integrating, discarding, or experiencing an ontological and epistemic shift, “transformation” and the “crossing of conceptual boundaries”(p. xii) occurs. New conceptual understanding emerges and the learner’s thinking has been changed.



Figure 1. Quadriplegic Joni Earekson Tada painting. Retrieved from

Figure 2. Energy. Retrieved from

Figure 3. Transformation. Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (Eds.). (2010). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Educational Futures: Rethinking Theory and Practice, 42, Ix-Xv. Retrieved from




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