The Liminal space

Now for many this will be a new concept. My research has led me to believe that the liminal space refers to a subjective space in between the known and the unknown. It encompasses the threshold of crossing over or to go beyond what one already knows into new and possibly daunting space that exists there. This is a non-tangible space and will look different for every person you encounter. Meyer, Land & Baillie (2010) summarised it well when they referred to the liminal space as the ‘suspended state of partial understanding’.

There are significant benefits for purposefully placing students into this space to learn. For many students, challenging situations inspire perseverance and enhance learning as students are driven to discover new and exciting things. For others who may not be as confident to delve into the unknown, learning within the liminal space links back to the personal learning space and provides an excellent platform for personal reflection and evaluation.

I am drawn here to share with you the term ‘productive struggle’. A term coined by Jo Boaler in her book What’s Math Got to Do with It? How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success.

Boaler suggested that deep and meaningful learning can arise when we provide out students with the opportunity to get the wrong answer! If students are required to retrace their steps and figure out how they will do things differently next time they are engaging in self evaluation and reflection and are beginning to understand that it is okay to be wrong!! Can I stress that again! We should be teaching our students that it is okay to be wrong, in fact wrong answers provide us with an invaluable platform to learn from our mistakes. Furthermore, Boaler also discovered that when students make mistakes in mathematics their brain actually ‘grows, synapses fire, and connections are made’, yet when they participate in rote work where they get the answer correct 100% of the time there is no brain growth (Boaler, 2014).

There are numerous challenges within this learning space for both teachers and students.

For students, crossing between the known and the unknown can be scary but unfortunately it is teachers who are far more resistant to delve into the unknown than their students – I believe this has something to do with the fear that seems to develop with age of being wrong or making mistakes. We as teachers MUST ensure that we uphold our pledge to be life long learners, regardless of wether this means facing a few hiccups along the way.

For students it can be challenging to acknowledge that this space is a space of growth and learning. It is not something to be ashamed of, rather it is something to be revealed and celebrated as a progression of the learning occurring.


Meyer, J., Land, R. & Baillie, C. (Eds.). (2010). Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Boaler, J. (2015). What’s Math Got to Do with It? How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success. New York, NY: Peguin Putnam Inc.

Boaler, J. (2014). The Mathematics of Hope: Moving from Performance to Learning in Mathematics Classrooms. Retrieved from Youcubed at:


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