Hans-Georg Gadamer’s ‘fusion of horizons’ as a ‘hook’ for learning

First posted on the Tales From The Reach blog on Friday 28 September 2018.

The idea of ‘hook’ as a teaching strategy is quite common. The term itself suggests implementing short engagement activities that capture pupils’ attention and then ‘hook’ them (or, rather, engage them) with the content of the lesson.  The term was popularised by Doug Lemov in the first edition of Teach Like a Champion. It was technique 12. Interestingly, it does not feature in the new edition, but that does not make it any less important to The Reach Teach Toolkit.

In his book, Lemov identifies 6 ways of applying a ‘hook’ in class to catch pupils’ attention. These include:

  • story – using narratives (quick and engaging);
  • analogy – comparing the content being taught to something in the pupils’ lives;
  • prop – using interesting objects to enliven curiosity;
  • media – using pictures, music or clips that entrance pupils;
  • status – showing off fantastic work or talking about amazing things that pupils cannot fail to appreciate;
  • challenge – giving pupils a difficult task that will involve concentration and focus as well as an element of competition and a sense of achievement, if completed.

In my INSET in September we looked at these briefly, but I also discussed another way of hooking pupils: the ‘fusion of horizons’. This can be seen as similar and compatible with the strategies of ‘analogy’ and ‘media’ above, but I made my thinking on this explicit as I feel this idea has served me well in the past, especially when trying to get pupils to empathise and in the use of pop culture in Religious Education lessons.

What is meant by ‘the fusion of horizons’

Most of our pupils have a limited experience of the world. It is sometimes useful, therefore, if we build upon their pre-existing experiences and interests when finding ways to make content interesting and engaging.

The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer calls this a ‘fusion of horizons‘  because we often make sense of things in relation to what we already know, which is our ‘horizon’.

Basically, we need to find ways of fusing our pupils’ experiences and interests with the content we are teaching; this would fuse their world (their horizon) with the subject content they have no knowledge or experience of (our horizon). I give two examples of this below.


Gadamer (Photo: Pilippe Rothe)

Example 1 – Bruce Almighty and prayer

In Religious Education, I teach a sequence of lessons on prayer. This includes learning about set prayers, informal prayers and the Lord’s prayer in Christianity as well as the five daily prayers practiced by Muslims.

Whilst I may find this intrinsically interesting, some of my pupils do not. However, in order to develop some form of theological debate, especially around whether an omnipotent and omniscient being could possibly exist in order to deal with all the prayers said everyday, I litter my lessons with very sort prayer related clips from the film Bruce Almighty.

For instance, the scene where Bruce (who is given God’s powers and duties) uses email to bulk answer ‘yes’ to all his prayers gets debates about prayer going as the pupils can relate to the comical character and technology used on Bruce’s PC, which contextualises the deeper theological points of the lesson in a more accessible everyday world. Moreover, not only do pupils often know the film, many find it funny and enjoyable. An example set of questions around the clip can be seen on the screenshot below. If you want to see the clip, watch here.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 14.26.26

Here, I ‘fuse’ the pupils’ interest in popular culture – especially celebrities, shows or films they may know –  with content they do not. Importantly, many of my pupils would openly admit to being interested in the former, but not the latter; this means I fuse their interests in popular culture with the appropriate subject knowledge. By using references to things that they know about with things they do not, I would argue that this counts as a ‘fusion of horizons’.

Example 2 – the marketisation of education

In Sociology, my Year 12 pupils have to learn about education policy. This includes the policies put forward by Kenneth Baker under Margaret Thatcher in 1988, some of the policies put forward by New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2010 as well as the Coalition and Conservative governments since 2010.

This excites me. In fact, I get very excited by it. However, most 16 and 17 year olds find this rather dry.

Therefore, I need to find a hook to teach the content in the box below, which is on the policies of the ‘New Right‘ and arguments for the ‘marketisation of education’. Many of my pupils say they find this quite “boring”.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 14.55.05

Here, I thought about key ideas associated the marketisation of education, such as ‘choice’ and ‘parentocracy’ and considered where and when my pupils may have made choices. The hard part was relating ‘choices’ to education and schools, but – once thought through – an answer was staring me in the face; they had all gone through primary to secondary transition, which inevitably included visiting secondary schools and making choices about applying to them with their parents.

Secondary transition was the basis of may ‘hook’ as pupils had experienced this before. Moreover, I could further engage pupils with some mildly controversial questions about their knowledge other schools, especially as their friends attended them, and asking whether they would choose differently if given the option to apply to secondary school all over again. This generated much debate and was scaffolded by the slide pictured below.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.20.33Pupils tended to be far more engaged in the ideas of marketisation when they could relate them to themselves. So the idea was simple; I fused their experiences with the content related to the New Right’s views on education policy. This was referred back to a number of times throughout the lesson.

Importantly, both the activities explained above were quick and acted as conduit to further and more in-depth learning.

Over the next few months, we will examine all of the ideas listed by Lemov in our ‘hook’ research group, which is part of the ‘five strands’ of the The Reach Teach Toolkit. We hope to further develop strategies and ideas over the next three terms and blog about them on the Tales From The Reach blog.

Picture credit: featured image is from Max Pixel and used under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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