Multiple perspective-based

Learning is promoted when it is guided by (multiple) domain-specific tools for thinking and practice

  • How can I teach my pupils to ask questions?
  • How can I teach around the ‘big ideas’ in my subject/domain?
  • How can I give coherence to the knowledge and skills I want to teach?
  • How can I arrive at central questions for my lesson(s)?
  • How can I bring coherence to a curriculum?
  • How can I teach students to think in a subject area (domain-specific thinking tools)?
  • How can I help pupils (learn to) think critically and solution-focused on relevant issues from different perspectives?

What does it mean and why is it important?

‘To be educated is not to have arrived at a certain destination, it is to travel with a different view’ – C.S. Peters, 1963

You can look at the world from different perspectives. Depending on the perspective chosen, different aspects of the subject in question light up. Someone looking at a painting and paying attention to the use of color will at the same time pay less or no attention to what frame has been used or what the painting is worth. A person looking at a plant and noticing the beauty of the flowers will pay less or no attention to the amount of stomata, while someone who knows more about stomata will ask themselves follow-up questions such as the evaporation rate associated with the amount of stomata and the chances of survival in certain climates, which follows from that.

Our view of reality is perspective-based and the perspective taken, consciously or unconsciously, acts as a searchlight for what we perceive. Subsequently, these kinds of perspectives (ways of thinking and seeing) can be worked out as questions we can (learn to) think with. In turn, these can be used in education as thinking tools for those involved to get a grip on reality. After all, teachers have been indicating for years that they think it is important for pupils to (learn to) ask questions and find answers on their own again and look at relevant issues from different angles (Janssen, 2017).

However, much teaching for students consists of listening to explanations, watching demonstrations and, above all, practicing a lot with what has been explained. Popper called this kind of explanation and practice teaching ‘answering a question that was not asked’ (Popper, ref). How can perspectives help move towards more demand-driven education?

Specialists in a field see more than lay people in that field. Also, specialists often turn out to be surprised by things that most people think are quite ordinary. The interesting thing in this is that specialists can wonder about many things precisely because they know a lot. In turn, having a lot of knowledge and questions often leads to more questions. Important for mapping and explicating perspectives is knowing where starting questions and follow-up questions come from. It turns out that starting questions arise from general ideas about what is being researched in a field (Kuipers, 2007; Giere, 2010; Callebaut 2012; Wimsatt 2007). From the answers to the initial starting questions, follow-up questions emerge that provide further direction in a particular field of knowledge (Rescher 2001).

A perspective brings questions together in a coherent way. It is a set of starting and follow-up questions that serves as a way of thinking to get a grip on reality and learn to understand it at a deeper level. For teaching, a perspective can also functionally connect lists of (sub)concepts into an opportunity to shape subject-specific skills (e.g. in biology, connecting the concepts of evolution into evolutionary thinking or in history, bringing together the conceptual elaborations of historical thinking). It is important to both introduce students step-by-step to the starting questions of different perspectives as well as let the follow-up questions in the perspective play an important guiding role in learning.


(Chemistry, den Otter, 2019): How can it be explained that graphene (from which pencil is made, for example) and diamond differ so much in properties even though they are both composed of C atoms?

Here, experts in chemistry will look for explanations at underlying levels. In doing so, they will ask themselves questions such as: what type of particles are involved? How are the particles arranged, et cetera. See the image below (in Dutch).

Practical implications

At the macro level (e.g. curriculum), perspectives can be used to bring coherence to a curriculum. For example, by functionally bringing skills and (sub)concepts together or as a functional coat hanger to indicate the big picture in a certain domain.

At meso level (e.g. teachers), perspectives can be used to design lessons (or lesson sections). They can also be used to design coherent lesson content, challenging tasks or central questions.

At the micro level (e.g. pupils), perspectives can be used to learn to think in a subject area (thinking tools). They can also help students learn to ask questions and find answers. Perspectives also serve to (learn to) look at complex issues in a critical and solution-oriented way and to combine the outcomes of different perspectives. In addition, perspectives can be used to discover the big picture in different parts of society and science.

In the Dutch publication What is really worth teaching? A perspective-based approach ( you will find background information on a perspective-based approach to education. Perspectives and what you can do with them are also elaborated for almost all school subjects.

The perspective-based approach was elaborated for science education: How can students learn to get a grip on complexity? – ScienceGuide (in Dutch)

Research projects

Scholarly publications

  • De Boer, E. Janssen, F. J. J. M., Van Driel, J.H. & Dam, M. (2019). Perspective-Based Generic Questions as a Tool to Promote Student Biology Teacher Questioning, Research in science education, First online.

In biological research, generic questions that are derived from perspectives (ways of looking at and thinking about life processes) help in generating specific questions. In this study, we used perspective-based generic questions as scaffolds to support student teachers in increasing the quality and quantity of their questions about biological topics. Fifteen student biology teachers were given an intervention to individually generate, in 15 min, as many questions as possible that they might ask in class about standards from the national syllabus for biology on a particular biological topic, first without using, and then using a set of perspective-based generic questions. The results of this study show that, using perspective-based generic questions, student teachers generated significantly more and higher quality questions. The formulated questions can be applied in two different contexts: during practicum, when student teachers actually teach biology, or when they plan future lessons, as the basis of challenging tasks or assignments, with the aim of getting students interested in finding the answers.

  • Landa, I., Westbroek, H., Janssen, F.J.J.M. van Muijlwijk, J., & Meeter, M. (2020). Scientific Perspectivism in Secondary-School Chemistry Education. Science & Education29(5), 1361-1388.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Westbroek, H.B., Landa, I., Van der Ploeg, B, & J. Muijlwijk-Koezen (2020). Perspectives for teaching about how science works. In McComas, W. (ed). Nature of Science in Science Instruction. Rationales and Strategies (p. 253-271). Cham: Springer.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M. (2017). Grip krijgen op complexiteit. Onderwijs voor het ‘moeras’.

Contact person for this principle
Fred Janssen