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National Art Education Association

The Spiral and The Lattice: Changes in Cognitive Learning Theory with Implications for Art
Author(s): Arthur D. Efland
Source: Studies in Art Education, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Spring, 1995), pp. 134-153
Published by: National Art Education Association
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STUDIES in Art Education Copyrightby the
A Journalof Issues and Research NationalArt EducationAssociation
1995, 36 (3), 134-153

The Spiral and The Lattice:

Changes in Cognitive LearningTheory with Implications
for Art Education

ArthurD. Efland

The Ohio State University

Recent views of learningand cognition are contrastedwith the cognitive learningtheories

of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In particular,Bruner'sideas are contrastedwith cur-
rent theoreticalefforts. Bruner'sideas led to what he termedthe spiral curriculum,a rep-
resentationof cognitive structuresbased on the notion of hierarchy,in which early learn-
ing provides the foundation for later learning. Currentcognitive views, though still
indebtedto Bruner,differ markedly,suggesting that a sufficient base of knowledge must
be in place before advancedknowledge acquisition is fruitful. Earliercognitive theories
had a developmentalfocus while currenttheory and researchexamines the cognitive basis
for expertisewithin specific domains of knowledge. Currentwork also studies the condi-
tions that may impede learningor foster the formationof misconceptions. In this paper a
curricularmodel is discussed as a lattice-like structure,inviting differing paths of explo-
ration. The model describes changes in knowledge-seeking strategiesas a key factor in
distinguishingnovice learners from advancedlearners, and stresses utilization of these
factors in studentassessment of art learning.

This paper summarizessome recent views of learning and cognition and spells
out their implications for teaching the visual arts. It contraststhe views of cogni-
tion that influenced the curriculumreformsof the late 1960s with those that gained
currencylate in the 1980s and early 90s. The ideas about cognition advancedby
Jerome Bruner(1960; 1961a; 1961b; 1965) are contrastedwith currenttheoretical
efforts (Feltovich, Spiro, & Coulson, 1993; Perkins & Simmons, 1988; Prawat,
1989; Shuell, 1986; Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich, & Anderson, 1988). Bruner'sideas
gave rise to what he termed the spiral curriculum, a representationof cognitive
structuresbased on the notion of hierarchy in which early learning provides the
foundationfor laterlearning. This model influenced the curriculumreformprojects
of the late 1950s and early 1960s such as "new math"and numerousprojectsin the
physical sciences and social studies. A model of the spiral curriculumcan be seen
in Figure 1.
This model suggests that children can be introducedto a leading idea early in
their experience provided that it is presentedin a form that they can comprehend.
At the enactive stage they may not understandthe principles governing algebraic
equations but they can be preparedfor that learning through the see-saw on the
school playgroundwhere balance is achieved when an equal weight is placed on
either side. This enables them to graspthe structureof the equationwhere different
numericalexpressions representthe same quantity,(e.g., 2 + 2 = 4; but also 2 + 1 +
1 = 4). Ideas introducedearly were thoughtto lay the groundworkfor more com-

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Figure 1
Model of the Spiral Curriculum

Symbolic stage of ----------------.. Thinkingwith abstract

Representation symbols:E=mc2
Iconic stage of ..-....---- .......
Representation Learningfrom
Re a /t\ \ \ \ schematic diagrams:
maps, pictures.
Enactive stage of -..
Representation J/
Le r
" _\ \ / \ / concrete materials:
tying knots

plex learninglater. As childrengrow older they will encounterinstances where the

principleof the equationis encounteredat a more abstractlevel.
Given that currentcognitive learningtheories differ from those of the past, is the
notion of the spiral curriculumstill adequateto supportcurriculumwork? If not,
how might the currentunderstandingof cognition be expressed, and how would it
affect curriculumwork? I argue for a new curriculummodel to supplantthe spiral
curriculum,one in which the learner'sknowledge is portrayedas a lattice-like struc-
ture, one that utilizes differing strategiesfor seeking new knowledge. In particular
I will cite a numberof studies in cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro et al., 1988) that
distinguish between strategies relevant at the introductorystages of knowledge
acquisitionwith others appropriateat later stages. This theory has been especially
useful in explaining why learning sometimes goes wrong, resulting in misconcep-
tions. This paper seeks to apply selected aspects of this and similar theories to
learningin art.
The Spiral and the Lattice
The spiraland the lattice are geometricforms, metaphoricrepresentationsof three
inter-relatedfactors:(a) the way knowledgeis organizedin an individual'sknowledge
base, (b) the way domainsof knowledge are organizedin and of themselves, and (c)
the way content is arrangedfor purposesof instruction. It is assumed that certain
arrangementsof knowledge will enhancelearningif, in some appropriateway, they
are patternedafter the structuresof knowledge of the domainbeing taught,and that
ultimatelythese structuresenable learnersto representdomain knowledge to them-
selves in flexible ways for effective applicationin relevantsituations. Theoretical
models are importantbecause they suggest optimal patternsthat curriculumcontent
might assumeto facilitatesuccess in comprehension.They also help explainhow the
assessmentof learningwould likely change at differinglevels of learning.
The spiral form was a useful way to portraythe effect of priorlearningon later
learning,in that, with each recurrenceof a specific feature of content, the spiral is

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seen to widen and become more encompassing. Moreover,the model was useful in
explaining the cognitive consequences if deficits in early learninginhibit the devel-
opment and elaborationof later learning (Bruner,1961a). Brunerbelieved that the
efficacy of later knowledge acquisitionis more or less set for life by early learning
experiences. Should these be inadequate,it would be difficult if not impossible to
overcome such deficits. If the readiness for mathematicalor verbal learning is not
in place by the time children reach the primary grades, these competencies may
never fully develop. This was the rationalebehind programslike OperationHead-
Startin the late 1960s. Bruneremphasizedthe building of readinessfor later learn-
ing by introducingthe leading ideas of a subject in the child's early learning expe-
Now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that certain ideas cannot be
introducedat early stages of learningif learnerslack sufficientknowledge. It is dif-
ficult for childrento develop an understandingof history without a sense of time or
duration. I rememberas a child thinking that the "olden days" meant all the time
before WorldWar I. George Washingtonand AbrahamLincoln were in the olden
days while Adam and Eve, dinosaursand cave men were slightly older but also in
the olden days, and were essentially contemporaneous.The sense that some of these
things happenedlong before others developed much later.
Currentconceptions of learning also recognize that prior learning affects later
learning,but they stress how naive concepts acquiredearly might affect later com-
prehension. Examples of children's early misconceptions regarding art were
describedby Wolf (1987), who found thatmany five-year-oldchildrenbelieve paint-
ings are made in factoriesby machinery. "Theymake few distinctionsbetween aes-
thetic and nonaestheticobjects...Although they may be able to identify one object
as a map and another as a drawing, they do not see the two as different types or
classes of images"(pp. 3-7). Most five-year-oldsdo not graspthe idea that an image
can be the original work of an artist. They also have no idea of differencesbetween
reproductionsand originals.
If children lack the notion of originality, the idea that an artist like Van Gogh
made picturesin a way thatintentionallydifferedfrom his predecessorswould hard-
ly make sense. They would perceive the attributesof his style as an aberrationof
some sort. If they lack the knowledge that there is an original work and that repro-
ductionsin textbooksare mass-producedreplicas of thatoriginal,the misconception
thatpicturesare made in factories may delay the formationof understandingsabout
artisticactivity. Before dealing with currenttheory in detail, I will recall the ideas
that supportedthe notion of the spiral curriculum.
Ideas Behind the Spiral Curriculum
In 1960, Brunerstatedhis now famous hypothesis which became the hallmarkof
curriculumreformefforts of that epoch. He assertedthat:
Any subjectcan be taughteffectively in some intellectuallyhonest form to any
child at any stage of development. It is a bold hypothesis and an essential one
in thinkingabout the natureof the curriculum.(p. 33)
He then elaboratedthis idea by describingwhat he saw as some of the basic dif-
ferences in childrenat differentphases of their intellectualgrowth.

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At each stage of developmentthe child has a characteristicway of viewing the

world and explaining it to himself. The task of teaching a subject to a child
at any particularage is one of representingthe structureof that subject in
terms of the child's ways of viewing things. The task can be thought of as
translation. The general hypothesis that has just been stated is premised on
the consideredjudgment that any idea can be representedhonestly and use-
fully in the thought forms of children of school age, and that these represen-
tations can later be made more powerful and more precise more easily by
virtue of this early learning.(p. 33)
Brunerthen describedlearningin developmentalstages based in parton Piaget's
three-stagetheory. He stressedthatthe main differencein the stages of learningwas
in the "forms of representation"available to the learner to construct knowledge.
Because learning in early childhood is largely groundedin the senses, the curricu-
lum at that level should make use of concrete objects and pictures,and because the
older students are less dependent upon sensory stimuli, and can employ abstract
symbols, they are encouragedto discover generalcategoriesthat make use of verbal
or mathematicalsymbols that express the leading ideas of a discipline. No domain
of knowledge was deemed too complex for early learners. Planners of curricula
could begin to build readinessin some intellectuallyhonest form providedthat they
honor the limits set by the forms of thoughtavailableto the child at a given stage of
development. Moreover, these structuresof knowledge could be presented quite
For Bruner(1960), solving the riddle of curriculummeant finding ways of rep-
resenting the leading ideas of a discipline in concrete ways at the early stages of
learning, thus creating readiness for abstractlearning to follow. If what distin-
guished the early learnerfrom the advancedlearnerwas no more than a difference
in the forms they can utilize to representknowledge, the curriculumtask entailed
finding those leading ideas aroundwhich a curriculumshould be built, "the great
issues, principles, and values that a society deems worthy of the continual concern
of its members"(p. 52), with the ideas themselves coming from the best minds of
each discipline (p. 19). It also consisted of finding the appropriateforms of repre-
sentationfor each stage of the child's development.
This was a revolutionaryidea because by the 1960s the great psychological dis-
coveries of the late nineteenthand early twentieth centuries had, at long last, been
acceptedas conventionalwisdom-namely the notion thatyoung childrenthinkdif-
ferently from adults, and that educatorsneed to be sensitive to these differences if
learningis to be successful. Brunercertainlydid not deny this, but he suggestedthat
within the limited ways a child can constructmeaning, we could begin to introduce
notions in simplifiedrepresentationsof the leading ideas of the disciplines valued in
the adultworld. We have only to tailorthese ideas in forms accessible to the child's
stage of development. We do not have to wait until children develop competence
with abstractsymbols.
However, differences between beginning and advanced learnerswere far more
complex than Bruner or his contemporarieshad initially realized. My childhood
understandingof time illustratesthat it is difficult to develop a sense of the past

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without a knowledge of events separatedby time. These events then come to be

seen as occurring one before the other, with some seen as causes and others as
The spiral model also tended to conflate developmentwith learning. It did not
explain how individualsat the same developmentallevel (e.g., adult learners)differ
with respect to their expertisein a given domain of knowledge, that is, how novices
differ from experts.
Content-Free Learning Theories
Brunerillustratedhis notion of the spiral curriculumwith content from science
and mathematics, and the learning principles that applied to these fields were
thought to apply equally well in all fields. If complex mathematicalpropositions
could be representedin concrete ways with concrete materialsat an early stage of
developmentand with abstractsymbols at a later stage, it should be possible to do
the same in other fields. He suggested that similar structuresof knowledge might
also be identified in such fields as literaturewhere the form of the tragedymight be
common to many literaryor dramaticworks of art (Bruner,1961b).
This inspiredmany art educators,such as Barkan(1962), to approachcurricular
reformsas discipline-centeredinquiries,where the sense of what a discipline is, was
taken from physics and mathematics(Efland, 1987). Later,I refer to work by psy-
chologist Rand Spiro et al. (1988), who distinguishbetween "well-structured"and
"ill-structured"domains to explain how knowledge in different domains varies in
Current Learning Theory
During the 1960s and 70s, the psychology of learning shifted from a behavioral
to a cognitive orientationwith the latter becoming the mainstreamin educational
psychology. According to Shuell (1986), "it has become increasinglyclear that the
amount of knowledge that one possesses has a substantialimpact on the learning
process" (p. 427). He also noted that recent theories describe learning as an active
ratherthan passive process, that there is greateremphasis upon understandingas a
process and outcome. Like earliertheory the role of priorknowledge and its impact
upon new learningis of central importance,but unlike earliertheory, currenttheo-
ries stress the domain-specificcharacterof learning.
Domain Specificity
Much currenttheory shows a discernible preference for studying learning phe-
nomena within specific domains of knowledge. The typical study compares indi-
viduals with varying levels of domain expertise to see how they approachproblem
situationsor acquirenew knowledge. Domain specificity implies that expertise in
one domain does not guaranteeexpertise in another. An expert mathematicianmay
have difficulty constructinga theological argumentor writing a poem. People at the
introductorystages of learning in a domain not only have less knowledge but are
limited in strategies available to them to procure new knowledge, or apply the
knowledge in their possession to new situations. People with high levels of exper-
tise differ from novices not only in the amountthey know but in the strategiesavail-
able to them to advancetheir knowledge (Koroscik, 1993). A beginning art history
studentwill devote much time to memorizingnames, dates, formal or stylistic char-

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acteristics of images, and the like. Professional art historians working at an

advancedlevel rarelyif ever engage in memorization,not only because they already
possess quantitiesof relevantfactual information,but because they are more likely
to focus on specific problems such as attributionor chronology as these bear upon
the interpretationof an individualwork of artor the stylistic developmentof an artist
or a given art movement. They are more likely to recognize gaps in knowledge or
inconsistencies in the ways that specific facts were interpretedin the past. By con-
trast, novices lack a sense for problematicissues within the domain. Experts can
transferrelevantaspects of previously learnedknowledge to new problems.
The importantdifference between novices and experts is not that the experts
know more, thoughcertainlythis is so, but thatthey know how to apply theirknowl-
edge to solve problems in their respective fields, or use existing knowledge to
acquire furtherknowledge. The transferof knowledge acquiredin one context to
work on problems arising in anotheris a key indicatorof advancedlearning. What
marks an individual as a novice is both a matter of having a superficial level of
knowledge and an inability to apply what is known to enlargeunderstanding.Even
though knowledge may be present, the learnermay not have access to it or recog-
nize its potential relevance for solving a problem or seeking new understandings.
Prawat(1989) characterizedthis as "inertknowledge"(p. 2). Individualswho pos-
sess cognitive flexibility are better able to apply what they know to new situations.
Levels in the Learning Process
Introductory knowledge acquisition. According to Feltovich et al. (1993):
In introductorylearningthe primaryeducationalgoal is often exposureto large
areasof curricularcontent("coverage"of content),withoutmuch emphasison
conceptualmasteryof knowledge... In particular,studentsmay not be expect-
ed to understandconcepts deeply or be able to apply them because it is pre-
sumed that following exposure, heightened understandingand knowledge
applicabilitywill be incrementallyachieved sometime later. (p. 184)
Prawat(1989) also describesthe differencesbetween naive learnersand advanced
learnersin terms of differencesin the extensiveness of their knowledge base which
containsformaland informalknowledge, conceptualand proceduralknowledge, and
concreteor representationalforms of knowledge (p. 3). Perkinsand Simmons(1988)
describelevels of learningas a series of frameworks,each employing a more elabo-
rate set of strategiesfor knowledge acquisitionand problemsolving.
In general these writers share the view that there are levels in the learning
process. At the introductorylevel the emphasisis on establishinga knowledge base.
The challenge confrontingthe learneris to acquire knowledge free of misconcep-
tions. The introductorylearnermay use strategieslike rote memorization. An alge-
bra studentmay memorize formulaswithout necessarily understandingthe concep-
tual basis on which the formularests or recognize real life applicationswhere it may
apply. Typically,this is assessed by simple tests of recall or by the ability to pro-
duce the right answer.
Naive, garbled, and compartmentalized concepts. At introductorylevels of
learning, certain specific misconceptions are likely to occur. According to Perkins
and Simmons (1988), introductorylearnersoften acquire"naiveconcepts,""garbled

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knowledge,"and "compartmentalizedconcepts." The notion that picturesare made

in factories would exemplify a naive concept. Anotheris the statementoften made
by adults that "good art is a matterof personal taste." As long as such naive prior
beliefs are held, studentswill have difficulty explaining why one critical interpreta-
tion is more credible than another. Garbledknowledge is exemplified by the state-
ment, "Pissarropaintedin the seventeenthcenturyin the classical style." Koroscik
(1990) exemplifies compartmentalizedknowledge with the example of students
who know that Seuratpainted SundayAfternoonon the Island of La Grande Jatte
in the Pointillist style, yet who fail to see how the dots in this paintingcontributeto
its expressive meaning. She also lists several curriculumresourceswhich similarly
fail to establish this connection.1 She contrasts these texts with Linda Nochlin's
(1990) essay, "LaGrandeJatte: An Anti-UtopianAllegory,"where the tiny circular
dots of color are directly linked to the expressive meaning of the work. Koroscik
also contraststhe limited understandingsof novices with the deeper and more fruit-
ful understandingsof the expert.
Koroscik (1990) furthersuggests how some children's textbooks compartmen-
talize the knowledge they contain, laying the groundworkfor futuremisunderstand-
ings. Workwith the learningproblemsfaced by medical studentsby Feltovich and
his associates (1993) shows that the procedures implemented by teachers at the
introductorystages of knowledge acquisition "often result in situations where the
groundworkset down in introductorylearning actually interferes with successful
advancedlearning(pp. 184-185)." They add that a numberof misconceptionspos-
sessed by medical students are acquired during the introductoryphases of their
training. These medical studentswere adults attemptingto acquireknowledge in a
complexly structuredarea of biomedical science. Somewhat later it will become
clear why knowledge in the arts is also complexly structuredand subject to a simi-
lar set of learningdifficulties.
Advanced knowledge acquisition. Feltovich et al. (1993) also contrast
advancedlearningwith introductorylearningin the following way:
At some point in the educationalprocess the restrictivegoals of introductory
learningmust be superseded;at some point studentsmustbe expectedto "get it
right." That is, studentsshould be expected to attain an accurateand deeper
understandingof contentmaterial,be able to reasonwith it, andbe able to apply
it flexibly in diverse,ill structured,and sometimesnovel contexts. (p. 184)
Misconceptions also occur at the more advanced stages of knowledge acquisi-
tion. Koroscik(1990) illustrateshow these misconceptionsmight affect learningin
art,including:(a) problemsof transfer;(b) perseveration,guessing and quitting;and
(c) ritual patterns. "Transfergoes beyond ordinary learning in that the skill or
knowledge in question has to travel to a new context" (Perkins & Salomon, 1988,
p. 22). The novice and the more sophisticatedstudent may both use transfer,but

'These include: Kielty,B. (1964). Masters of painting: Theirworkstheir lives, their times. GardenCity
NJ: Doubleday; Peppin, A. (1980). The Usborne story of painting. London: Usborne; Chapman,L.
(1985). Discover art: Grade 6. Worcester,MA: Davis; Hubbard,G., & Rouse, M. (1977). Art:
Meaning, methodand media: Grade 6. Westchester,IL: Benefic.

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typically, the novice in art history will look for connections based upon superficial
stimulus similarities while the more advanced individual will see past surface
appearancesto find connections at greaterdepth. Koroscik uses Nochlin's Grande
Jatte essay to show how this arthistorianfinds relationshipsbetween de Chavannes'
painting The Sacred Grove and Seurat's Grande Jatte, relationshipswhich neither
rely upon physical nor stylistic similarities. Feltovich and his associates (1993)
explain this phenomenonin the following way:
What has been observed is that people with little experience working within
a content domain notice, classify by, and have their actions driven by appar-
ent and superficial("surface")featuresof situations. In contrast,with greater
experience, noticing, categorization and the basis of action come progres-
sively to be driven by more covert, relational characteristicsof situations
("deep structures"),including operativeprinciples and concepts. For exam-
ple, novice physics problemsolvers see and solve problems alike that contain
the same kind of objects (e.g., pulleys), while expertsclassify and solve prob-
lems alike that embody the same principles of physics (e.g., principles of
energy), even though the problems appearto be very differenton the surface.
(pp. 202-203)
Perseveration, guessing, and quitting. Students will often persist in using
strategies that fail to yield progress. Lacking alternativestrategies, they may try
working harder,proceed on a guess, or simply give up. Koroscik (1990) refers to
her first exposure to Seurat'sLa Grande Jatte at the Chicago Art Institute. As a
middle school studenton a class trip, she tried to understandthis work by looking
hardat all the dots. Her account also makes clear the point that the Pointillist style
was what her seventhgrade artteacherhad emphasized. Looking harderand longer
at the dots would not have enabled her to deepen her understandingof this work.
Ritual patterns. Unlike the naive concepts that were discussed earlier,a ritual
patternis a strategythat has been learned within formal instruction. Perkins and
Simmons (1988) describemathematicsstudentsgoing throughwhat they call "equa-
tion cranking,"where they go throughthe motions of solving their problemwithout
thinking about the relevance of their strategy to the problem at hand. Koroscik
(1990) points to a parallel situationin art:
The problem can be seen in art educationwhen students adopt strategiesfor
responding to art without comprehendingtheir purpose or limitations. For
example, studentsmight be taughtto use the principles of design to analyze
the formal propertiesof an artwork,and automaticallyemploy this strategy
even when the problemcalls for the interpretationof meanings. More recent-
ly, art students have been taught to use a four step criticism method i.e.,
description, analysis, interpretationand judgment (Feldman, 1973, 1987).
Often when such methods are used without a specific objective in sight those
studentslose trackof what they are actually searchingfor. (p. 21)
How and When Misconceptions Develop
At the outset I describedmy limited understandingof history,the notion of olden
days as any time before WorldWar I. This understandingwas limited by my lack
of a detailed and rich knowledge base. My sense of the past, acquiredinformally,

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was both naive and undifferentiated. Once formal education began, the notion of
olden days was graduallysupplantedby a more elaboratesense of time. But formal
education can be a source of misconceptions that will do mischief when students
begin to invoke advancedknowledge-seeking strategies.
As noted earlier, the procedures implemented by teachers at the introductory
stages of learningare often found to constrainthe developmentof understandingsat
advanced learning levels. Feltovich et al. (1993) describe the well-intentioned
efforts of teachers and textbook writers who over-simplify the presentation of
knowledge for ease of acquisition. They discuss how superficialanalogies, used to
explain the humanbody's circulatorysystem (likening it to plumbingin a building),
may limit futureunderstandings. Mechanistic analogies are useful to make certain
points clear, but their use may prepare the ground for later learning difficulties.
Analogies can be useful if introducedin multiples as a way to offset the limits of
any single analogy (Feltovich et al., 1993).
In art education,teachersand textbook writerscommonly induce childrento use
the terminology of formal analysis in the critical study of artworks. Childrenare
asked to describe the lines and colors of the work, followed by analysis and inter-
pretation.Textbooksmight provideyoungerreaderswith sets of recognitionrules by
which they can identify a style like FrenchImpressionism. These rules may enable
students to distinguish one style from earlier or later styles. Students using such
instructionalmaterialsmay actually do quite well on tests of recall where the task
requiredis to recognize given styles. The problemwith these instructionalmaterials,
as well as with the methodsby which such learningis assessed, is thatthey may over-
simplify the subjectmatterbeing taught. This in turnmay impairlaterlearning,such
as when a studentmay be asked to apply this knowledge to his or her interpretation
of the work, or discuss its social or aestheticsignificance. In short,the abilityto rec-
ognize an artwork'sstyle is often mis-equatedwith understanding.
Reductive bias. Feltovich et al. (1993) referto a numberof cases in which over-
simplificationshave led to what they call the reductivebias-the tendencyto reduce
the complexity of difficult subject matterby such strategiesas: (a) teaching topics
in isolation from related ones (compartmentalizingknowledge); (b) "presenting
only clear instances of a phenomenon(and not the many pertinentexceptions); and
(c) "requiringonly reproductivememory in assessment"(p. 184). These teaching
devices, they comment,
are often in conflict with the realities of advancedlearning-where compo-
nents of knowledge are fundamentallyinterrelated,where context-dependent
exceptions pervade, and where the ability to respond to "messy" application
situationsis required.(p. 184)
A Summary of Key Points
First, developments cognitive learningtheory cast doubt upon Bruner'sgrand
hypothesis that by providingearly representationsof certainleading ideas we may
later provide the readiness for a more sophisticatedpresentationof that idea. This
was the basic premise undergirdingthe spiral curriculum. It is becoming clear that
some early representationsmay actuallyinhibitlaterlearningif or when they reduce
the inherentcomplexity of the materialbeing presented.

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Second, when informationto be learnedis intrinsicallycomplex, as much learn-

ing in art is, the first pedagogical instinct is to simplify instructionalmaterialsand
activities for easier assimilation especially at the introductoryphases of learning.
Such over-simplificationsaboundin the instructionalmaterialsthat have been pub-
lished in the last two decades since discipline orientedcurriculahave become more
widespread.2 When studentsare expected to move into the more advancedphases
of knowledge acquisition,these simplifiedrepresentationsmay impose limits on the
depth of later understandings.
Third,the pedagogicalproblemconfrontingteachersis how to preservethe inher-
ent complexity of domainknowledge being taughtwhile enabling studentsto grasp
the subjectmatterwithoutbeing totally overwhelmedby this very complexity.
The Nature of Knowledge: Well-structured and Ill-structured Domains
Earlierit was noted that the models of disciplines used in teaching the arts were
drawnfrom the sciences. This was a source of problemsrightfrom the start(Efland,
1987). If the arts have a differentstructurethan the sciences, what is this structure
and how does it suggest we approachsuch tasks as curriculumdevelopment and
assessment? Sheddinglight on this question is work done on the differences in the
structureand complexity of variousknowledge domains. Spiro et al. (1988) coined
the terms well-structuredand ill-structuredto differentiate types of knowledge.
Knowledge in physics is likely to be well-structuredbecause its laws, axioms, and
theorems link together to form deductive explanations of given phenomena.
Individualcases or examples which illustratethat phenomenonare likely to be uni-
form with predictabilityand consistency across cases. Well-structuredknowledge
permits a hierarchicalor "top-down"informationprocessing where the meaning of
a concept is consistent from one case to another.
Art is an ill-structureddomain because learnersmust pay close attentionto the
particular details of individual cases rather than to knowledge in the abstract.
Critical interpretationof works of art is likely to proceed on a case-by-case basis
which suggests that the study of works of art could well be classified as ill-struc-
tured. Certainlythe fact that differentcritics develop quite differentinterpretations
of the same work of art attests to the ill-structurednessof this domain. Spiro et al.
(1988) note that even in so-called well-structureddomains there may be concepts
that are ill-structuredat the more advanced levels of inquiry, and similarly, there
may be concepts in ill-structureddomains that sometimes act like well-structured
concepts. An example of the latter might be the concept of style, where many
objects from the same time period and culture seem to share a "family-resem-
blance."3 One can assemble a group of concepts or descriptivefeaturesthat togeth-
er would form a rule for identifying Gothic architectureor French Impressionism.
If utilized, such a rule will enable studentsto identify major works in these styles

2See Efland,A. (1987). Curricularantecedentsof discipline-basedarteducation. In Smith, R. A., (Ed).,

Journal of Aesthetic Education,21(3), 57-94.
3Feltovichand his colleagues use Wittgenstein'sterm "family resemblence"in much the same way that
Weitz (1956) applied the term in his landmarkessay, 'The role of theory in aesthetics"in the Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism,15(1), 27-35.

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however,to develop deeper understandingsone needs to reach beyond surface sim-

Teaching Art as an Ill-Structured Domain
Instructionalproceduresthatsucceed for well-structureddomainsmay proveto be
inadequatefor the more complex materialfound in ill-structureddomains. In the
case which follows, a teacherpresentsa unit on FrenchImpressionism. The actions
of the teacherarethen interpretedby the theoreticalconsiderationsdiscussedthusfar.
A lesson on French Impressionism. A middle school teacherintroducesa unit
on FrenchImpressionismin her class. She chooses this style because it is aestheti-
cally familiarto most children,and her objective is to use this style to lay the foun-
dation for other styles that have followed Impressionism such as Post-
Impressionism,Fauvism, Cubism, and the like. She opens the unit by introducing
several characteristics of the Impressionistic style (a recognition rule). These
include:(a) the fact thatthese paintersloved the effects of vibrantcolor; (b) thatthey
sought to createthe effects of outdoorlighting (plein-air);(c) that they paintedwith
expressive brushstrokesratherthan produced the slick finished surfaces of tradi-
tional academic painting; and (d) that they frequently painted subjects in which
groups of mainly middle class people are enjoying their leisure in outdoor settings
like gardenrestaurantsand boating scenes.
She tells the story of how artistsbeginning with Manet rebelled against the aca-
demic style. Then to make her point she comparesRenoir'sLe Moulin de la Galette
with several academic paintings of the same time period such as Puvis de
Chavenne's Summerto enable the students to distinguish the Impressionist style
from the Academic style that was still prevalentin the same time period.
The four rules she listed do in fact apply to most Impressionistworks and are
commonly found in texts on the subject. Stylistic attributesby their naturetend to
apply to a large class of objects, albeit, in a superficialway. By teaching children
to recognize these stylistic characteristicsthrough four or five exemplars, and by
contrasting the works with contrary cases or comparative exemplars (Koroscik,
1992; Koroscik, Short, Stavropoulos,& Fortin, 1992), this teachercan predictwith
confidence that most studentswill select additionalexemplarsof the Impressionist
style with little or no difficulty. Many teachersreadily assume that studentswho are
capable of making this discriminationunderstandImpressionism as a movement,
and hence, their teaching may focus solely on the acquisitionof recognition skills.
This teacher in this case, however, recognizes that her list of generic attributes
fails to accountfor exceptionalcases (i.e., Impressionistpaintingswhich do not rely
on the effects of light, whose colors may be muted and somber,and whose subject
mattermay reflect toil or suffering). Also, some artistsmay show one or two of the
listed characteristicsbut not all, while artistswho are not Impressionists,like Manet
and Seurat, have also produced works with some of the same characteristicsas
Impressionistpaintings. For these reasons, the teacher focuses a second lesson on
the exceptions ratherthan the typical works associated with the style.
Teaching for higher-order understanding. The pedagogical challenge for the
art teacher is to find ways of promptingstudentsto go beyond the simple recogni-
tion rules learnedfor Impressionism. To do this she introducesa series of what she

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calls "hardcases" to illustratethat "triedand true rules" may not always apply. A
series of comparativeexemplars in the form of counter-examplesare presented.
These include Pissarro's Poultry Market at Gisors that portrays peasant women
engaged in the commerce of an open air marketas opposed to middle class people
at their leisure. Another is The Absinthe Drinker by Degas that shows a lonely
woman drinkingat a Parisianbar. The use of these comparativeexemplarsinten-
tionally challenges the rule acquiredearlier. The students are promptedby ques-
tions like, "Why do some Impressionistartistsseek out unhappypeople as subjects
for their painting?" or "How can we explain the appearanceof subjects reflecting
misery and unhappinessat a time when the average Impressionistpicturereflected
The new rule is based on the notion of context, where the knowledge of the for-
mal and subject matteraspects of artworks, though recognized, needs to be under-
stood in terms of connections to the social and cultural world of the artist. The
learnernot only identifiesthe subjectmatterdepictedin the work, the formal aspects
of the style that enable it to be identified,but knows also to interpretthe presence of
these features in the work. The ability to do this reflects a higher-orderunder-
standingthan would be indicated by mere recognition of the style. The teacher in
this instanceis satisfied when her studentssee beyond the recognitionrule, as when
the students show evidence that they can also identify less typical instances of
Impressionist paintings which may not conform in the usual way to other
Representations of the Curriculum in Ill-Structured Domains
When Spiro et al. (1988) suggested that learningin ill-structureddomains has to
preserve the intrinsic complexity of the material being learned, he and his col-
leagues adopteda curricularapproachemploying the medium of a computerhyper-
text program able to provide multiple representationsof the phenomenon being
learnedby students. They likened their approachto that of a landscapeundergoing
Deep understandingof a complex landscape will not be obtained in a single
traversal. Similarly for a conceptual landscape. Rather,the landscape must
be criss-crossedin many directionsto masterits complexity and to avoid hav-
ing the fullness of the domain attenuated. The same sites in a landscape (the
same cases or concepts in a knowledge domain) should be revisited from dif-
ferent directions,thoughtaboutfrom differentperspectives,and so on. There
is a limit to how much understandingof a complex entity can be achieved in
a single treatment,in a single context, for a single purpose. By repeatingthe
presentationof the same complex case or concept informationin new con-
texts, additionalaspects of the multifacetednessof these "landscapesites" are
broughtout....Thus cognitive flexibility is fostered by a flexible approachto
learningand instruction. (p. 6)
Spiro et al. (1988) also made anotherpoint:
The more ill-structuredthe domain, the poorer the guidance for knowledge
application that "top-down"structureswill generally provide. That is, the
way abstractconcepts (theories, general principles, etc.) should be used to

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facilitate understandingand to dictate action in naturally occurring cases

becomes increasinglyindeterminatein an ill-structureddomain (i.e., a domain
in which cases are individuallymultidimensional,and irregularlyrelated one
to the next) cannot be prescribedin advance by general principles. This is
because, in ill-structureddomains, there is great variabilityfrom case to case
regardingwhich conceptual elements will be relevantand in what patternof
combination. In an ill-structureddomain, general principles will not capture
enough of the structureddynamics of cases; increased flexibility in respond-
ing to highly diverse new cases comes increasingly from reliance on reason-
ing from precedentcases. (p. 7)
Their example of a hypertextcurriculumis thus not a spiral where a pre-select-
ed leading idea is first identified, which then is revisited at regularintervalseach at
increasinglyhigher levels of abstraction. They provide a clear picture of the criss-
crossed patterningof a lattice, where concepts are also revisited. However, the
repeated encounterscome from a wide arrayof differing directions and contexts,
learned in their interconnectedness. The authorssee this as a way to preserve the
innate complexity of the materialbeing learned, while at the same time, recogniz-
ing that the learnercannot captureall the complexity at once. The learnerdoes not
have to deal with the totality in one learning episode, rather,with multiple traver-
sals, a complex understandingis achievable.
Spiro's et al. (1988) idea of basing the reasoning process on the utilization of
precedentcases sounds very much like what artcritics do when they come to terms
with a new and unfamiliarwork of art. Critics do not rely on formal principles or
universal standardsas a source of methods for approachingthe work, but rely
instead upon their individualizedpersonalhistory of cases built up throughindivid-
ual encounterswith art works. Theirknowledge is a "knowledgein practice,rather
than in the abstract"(p. 7).4
One of the problemsin domainslike artis thatthere is less insistence on "getting
it right"in the sense that Feltovich et al. (1993) discuss it. There are fewer degrees
of interpretive freedom in the biomedical sciences where more is at stake if
advanced medical students "get it wrong." "Gettingit right"in a domain like art
criticism is not so much a matterof coming up with the "right"interpretationas it
is a matterof coming up with a credible interpretation,one that takes into account
a multiplicityof inter-relatedelements.
The Lattice as a Representation of the Curriculum
The use of the semilattice as a representationof certain types of city plans was
shown by Alexander(1988) who comparestwo structures,the tree and the semilat-
tice to representdifferences between planned and unplannedcities.5 These struc-

4I am reminded of an observationmade by Tom Wolfe (1975) in his book, The Painted Word (Farrar,
Straus, & Giroux Publishers)who reacted negatively to the art critic Hilton Kramerbecause Kramer's
criticism was governed too much by his theory of art.Worksreceived his blessing when they happened
to illustrate his theory of art. Interpretingthis comment in terms of the psychology of ill-structured
domains, Kramerwould appearto be guilty of approachingartas a well-structureddomainwhen in actu-
ality it was much messier.

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Figure 2
A Representationof a tree (based on Alexander,1988, p. 69)


/y^~ +^456

1 2 3 4 5 6

tures might also be used to representcurricularstructuresas well. According to

Alexander, planned cities, sometimes called "artificialcities," function less well
than unplannedor "naturalcities." The conceptualideal that inspiredcity planning
as an endeavorwas that by alleviating the complexity and confusion of urbanlife,
the city could be made more efficient, leading to improvementsin the qualityof life.
But many times when this is done, these communities seem to lose their viability.
Simplicity is not the virtue it was thoughtto be.
Trees and semilattices were used to analyze the structuraldifferences between
plannedand unplannedcities, with plannedcommunitiestendingtowardthe branch-
ing diagramof a tree, while the unplannedcity mappedas a semilattice. The differ-
ence between the two is readily apparentin Figures 2 and 3. The tree is a simpler
structureand gains this by eliminatingpartiallyoverlappingfunctions. Residential
areaswould not overlapwith industrialor commercialdistricts. Moreover,like func-
tions would be groupedtogether,for instance,industrieswith more industries,shop-
ping malls with more shoppingmalls, and even culturalactivitieslike the opera and
symphonywould be clusteredtogetheras in architecturalcomplexes like the Lincoln
Centerin New YorkCity. In unplannedcities, industrial,residential,and commercial
districtsmay overlaphaphazardly,resultingin inefficiencies. People in the course of
their daily lives work, play, shop, seek entertainment,or engage in culturalor civic
activities often in close proximityto each other. Therefore,it may make sense for
these differentfunctions to intersectand overlap, as when people shop on the way

'Alexanderuses the more precise term "semi-lattice"to characterizenaturalcities in contradistinctionto

trees which follow a rationaldeductivemethod of reasoning as an organizingprinciple. My term lattice
is intended to convey the idea that there are more possibilties for overlapping ideas in a knowledge
domain than might be realized in an individual's knowledge structure. In my view the tree represents
knowledge structuresthat are "well-structured."

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Figure 3
A Representationof a semi-lattice (based on Alexander,1988, p. 69)


12345 \

12; 23 345

1 ~ 2 3 4 5 6

home fromwork. Plannedcities tendto isolatelike activitieswhile in unplannedenvi-

ronments,these functions were experiencedas being more integrated.
If Alexander (1988) is right, planned simplicity may be akin to the over-simpli-
fication of complex knowledge in a textbook. In many respects lattices and trees
might serve as representationsof structuresof knowledge and the curriculaused to
producethem. I suggest that in the artsand humanitiesthe structuresof knowledge
are more likely to be lattice-like than tree-like. Tree-like structuresare more apt to
resemblethe deductivereasoningfound in well-structureddomainslike the hardsci-
ences where all cases of a class of phenomenaare subsumedunderthe same gener-
ic concept. All instances of the concept "bird"are subsumedunderthe generic idea
of a bird, so if a creatureis a bird, it is not a mammalor a reptile. If the animalking-
dom were a tree, then birds, reptiles, and mammalsmust occupy separatebranches
because one cannot be both at the same time. However,in the arts and humanities,
a bird of prey can be a symbol for war and the dove a symbol for peace. The social
context out of which these symbols emerge requiresmetaphoricforms of knowing
which enable the learnerto constructmeaningby interconnectingotherwise widely
separatebits of information.
In ill-structureddomainshowever,the lattice may be the more appropriatefigure,
because instead of generic ideas like birds and mammals, one deals with concepts
like Impressionism which may show a family resemblance with Post-
Impressionism. The Post-Impressionistartist Seurat made use of the same color
theory as Impressionistartists. His relation to Impressionismcan be pictured as
having an overlappingsimilarity with respect to color, but not with respect to the
way he paints outdoor scenes with people. In particular,people are depicted as
inanimate,stiff, and aloof in SundayAfternoonon the Island of La GrandeJatte and
are quite unlike people in the typical Impressionistoutdoor scene. Style categories
may need to flow from one categoryto another,not dichotomouscategoriesbut con-
tinuous ones where the boundariesbetween vary among observers.

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Why the Lattice is More Complex

Alexander (1988) examines the behaviorof designers to explain why they think
in tree-like conceptions of organizationratherthan in the lattice form. He asks:
Why it is that so many designershave conceived cities as trees when the natur-
al structureis in every case a semilattice? Have they done so deliberately,in the
belief thata tree structurewill serve the people of the city better? Or have they
done it becausethey cannothelp it, because they aretrappedby a mentalhabit,
perhapseven trappedby the way the mind works-because they cannotencom-
pass the complexityof a semilatticein any convenientmentalform,becausethe
mindhas an overwhelmingpredispositionto see trees whereverit looks. (p. 80)
He then uses an example in which he asks the readerto rememberan orange, a
watermelon,a football, and a tennis ball.
How will you keep them in your mind, in your mind's eye? However you do
it, you will do it by grouping them. Some of you will take the two fruits
together, the orange and the watermelon, and the sports balls together, the
football and the tennis ball. Those of you who tend to think in terms of phys-
ical shape may group them differently,taking the two small spheres togeth-
er-the orange and the tennis ball and the two large and more egg-shaped
objects-the watermelonand the football. (p. 80).
Eithergrouping,he explains, has the logical attributesof a tree and that the com-
bination of the two form a semilattice. He explains that it is possible to visualize
one set and then the other,but not both simultaneously,and thatthe four objects can
be groupedin four ways, but that "you cannot conceive of all four sets at once in a
single mental act (p. 80)". He shows these possibilities with a figure on which I
based Figure 4.
Role of Transfer in the Lattice Curriculum
A curriculumthat has the potentialfor exposing studentsto a greaternumberof
overlappingand interconnectedideas has a greaterlikelihoodfor facilitatingtransfer.
Transferoccurswhen two differentideas or conceptsareseen to haveelementsin com-
mon. In terms of the lattice describedin Figure 4, it would occur when the learner
would graspthe similaritybetweenthe orangeandthe tennisball andthe footballwith
the watermelon.It is the abilityto combineelementsin one set with those of another.
In art, the overlappingelements could be ideas common to both art history and
social-history or seeing connections between art historical study and the history of
aesthetics. The lattice also enables us to visualize the solution to a numberof prob-
lems posed by the fact that discipline-basedarteducation(DBAE) drawsideas from
four discrete disciplines.
A potentialhazardin discipline-basedcurriculais the temptationto develop ideas
of content from each field independentlydespite the fact that there are overlapping
ideas among them. It tends to treat each sub-discipline in isolation when in fact
there are deep connections among them. To understandart in depth means that a
learnerhas formed numerousconnections between studio studies, art history, aes-
thetics, and art criticism. The latter three enable the studentto relate the develop-
ments in art with the social world that gives rise to art. Figure 5 representsa disci-
pline-based art curriculumas a tree. In a sense it portraysa worst case scenario

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Figure 4
Comparingthe Treewith the Semi-Latticein Termsof Complexity

Small Large egg shaped

Orange Football

Orange Watermelon

where the naturalconnections that should arise among disciplines are artificially
separatedby the curriculumplan. By contrast,Figure 6 is a partiallattice showing
potential intersectionsamong the four sub-disciplines of art. One can see that the
lattice provides multiple occasions where the sub-disciplines intersect, creating
more routes of intellectualtravel than the tree.
Transferis a strategyfor applying prior learning to new situations where it may
be relevant. Perkins and Salomon (1988) discuss transfer as having at least two
distinct levels which they call "high road transfer"and "low road transfer." An

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Figure 5
Discipline-based KnowledgeShown as a TreeWithoutOverlappingElements
Discipline-based Art

History of Art Aesthetics
Art Criticism

Figure 6
Discipline-based KnowledgeShown as a Semi-Latticewith
Partially OverlappingElements

1. Art Studio 1/2 Studio with Criticism

2. Art Criticism 2/3 Criticism with History
3. Art History 3/4 History with Aesthetics
4. Aesthetics 1/3 Studio with History
1/4 Studio with Aesthetics

example of low road transfer might be the student who has learned the recogni-
tion rule for Impressionism based on the four exhibited features discussed earlier,
and who is able to apply them to identify Impressionist paintings that he has not
seen before. He is able to use the rule as a generalization which applies to a num-
ber of cases. An example of high road transfer might be a case where the student
is able to go beyond a recognition rule for Impressionist paintings to see deeper
connections between the style and the significance of its appearance in a given
social context. Differences in levels of transfer would be useful to assess the
depth of a student's understanding of a given domain. High road transfer, as
expressed in terms of the lattice, would mean that a student could move from one
set of categories such as formal qualities to another such as the social or cultural

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context of art.
Transfer and the Assessment of Deeper Understanding
Assessing the acquisition of introductoryknowledge is a relatively straight-for-
ward matterinvolving the recall of informationby means of paper and pencil tests
or by recognition of various styles or exemplarsin terms of the formal features of
artworks. Such learningis amenableto standardizedtesting. Also, introductorystu-
dio study can be assessed using portfolio evaluationtechniques,productscales that
rate the student'soriginality,and/ortechnical skill. None of the above involve con-
ceptually complex learningor complex means of assessing learning.
However, when art learning moves to the stage of advancedknowledge acquisi-
tion, the assessment of learning also becomes more complex. The value of quanti-
tative measures of correctknowledge becomes less useful in determiningthe depth
of understanding. How the student applies knowledge in her possession becomes
more important. Emphasis needs to shift from the ability to recall knowledge to
transfer,where the student demonstratesadvanced understandingby applying the
knowledge in new situations. If the studentknows about the effects of warm color
and cool colors in creatinga sense of depth, but cannot explain how that potential-
ly affects the interpretationof a work where that feature is of critical importance,
then such knowledge, though present, is inert. Its relevance to the new task is not
Assessing misconceptions. Feltovich and his colleagues (1993) also list addi-
tional characteristicsto bear in mind in the assessment of learning. They stress the
importanceof finding the causes of misconceptions that may have been noted. If
introductorylearning strategieshave led the studentto misunderstanda concept by
over-simplifying it or by misrepresentingthe concept throughthe use of an inap-
propriateanalogy,then the teacherbenefits from knowing where understandingsare
likely to breakdown and where correctionsmight need to be made in the materials
to be learned. Assessment should focus both on the desired goals of advanced
knowledge acquisitionand on the reasons for comprehensionfailure.Unfortunately,
assessing higher-orderunderstandingsis more expensive and labor-intensivethan
the assessment of knowledge at introductorylevels.
The Postmodern Challenge
There are additionalreasons thatfavorthe idea of the lattice as a curriculumpar-
adigm which have to do with intellectual challenges put forth by what many now
refer to as the postmodern condition. Charles Jencks in his various writings has
describedthe domainof the postmodern,as "a time of incessantchoosing" (e.g., see
Jencks, 1986, p. 36). Pluralisticnotions of the natureof art abound, including the
notion that contemporaryart forms are doubly coded, where the same work may
intentionally convey different or conflicting meanings to the viewer. As Harvey
(1989) put the matter,the condition of postmodernityis less a unified world view
and more a "minefieldof conflicting notions" (p. 11).
If the arts are involved in constructingnew and increasinglycomplex images of
reality, and if these are importantto understandas a significantpart of the contem-
porary discourse of our society, then we as art teachers have to prepareourselves
and our studentsto approachthe world of artin all its complexity. The arts are part

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of the cultural and conceptual landscape that we inhabit. The map of this landscape
must be capable of representing all its potential complexity if we are to succeed in
helping future learners deal discerningly with this world. If it is artificially restrict-
ed by the deductive logic of the tree form, we may admire its elegance and "well
structuredness," yet it may be little more than a blueprint for future misunderstand-
ings. If the map is to be an adequate representation of the social and cultural land-
scape we inhabit, it must be more like the lattice. If that bewildering picture is
indeed the map of our world, then it makes sense for the curriculum that models it
to show the world in all its confounding complexity and richness.


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