Archive for June, 2013

June 26, 2013

Breadth, Depth and Understanding

*Chapter 7 (What Is Uncoverage?) from Understanding by Design focuses on two important concepts in teaching/learning – depth and breadth, both of which need to be balanced in a spiraled curriculum that engages the learner to not only know or perform but understand.

Wiggins talks about the need to uncover as it stems from a “blind spot” many teachers exhibit when they teach – that is, they teach from the standpoint of the expert without realizing that what is connected and meaningful to them is not perceived as such by students.

Another challenge is also presented by textbooks where information, regardless of the subject, is linear and convergent. That is not how knowledge was constructed – even in sciences, let alone humanistic studies, many competing theories, hypotheses and struggles occurred historically, and students need to understand why and how a certain say, mathematical theorem, came to be widely accepted and used.

Obviously, not all knowledge should be inquired into – there is not physical time for that anyway –  we need to find what is valuable and relevant within a discipline and design these increasingly sophisticated challenges that push students’ thinking beyond the simple knowing of content. 

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June 16, 2013

The Six Facets of Understanding (4)

*Those who read this blog know that I read Grant Wiggins’s  book Understanding by Design with chapters 1 , 2, and 3 already summarized. I prefer books to blogs by far as there is more substantial knowledge to derive from them, to question and analyze. Blogs are great in some ways but detrimental in others – too much personal input, beliefs, values, cultural context. Definitely enriching but at times I don’t really need that much, especially in the area of teaching where true thought leaders are hard to find. Most of today’s “innovative” ideas belong to the past, and I learned that in high school (more than 20 years ago) when I studied history of pedagogy.

Back to Wiggins.

I organized his ideas from Chapter 4 (The Six Facets of Understanding) in a chart that you can download. I think that schools do not engage students in many of the understanding processes showed below but mainly in the last three. We as “intellectuals” fail often to display understanding, too, which is why reading this book was also an exercise in self-reflection.

I will post later this summer on my “teaching” blog to show class examples of how I try to address each facet. I am privileged because I have been working in IB schools for the past 11 years and all of Wiggins’s (and Jay McTighe’s) ideas are embedded in the IB philosophy.

The facets of understanding are different but related, in the same way that different criteria are used in judging the quality of performance.

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June 9, 2013

Learning Stages

*I found a very interesting classification of learning stages by Hubert Dreyfus through this article  that sets his classification against online learning.  Although learning is not linear , I think it is worth considering at least for the sake of confronting personal experience in teaching with others’ perspectives. 

Stage 1: Novice
The novice typically gets instruction in the basics of a subject. In the Humanities lectures are still the most popular means to deliver this instruction. Students at this stage are principally consumers being taught simple rules and being provided with some factual content.

Stage 2: Advanced Beginner
Students need to understand relevant contexts for the rules and facts they learn. At this stage students learn to make some sense of what was mere information. The instructor typically becomes a kind of coach, ‘who helps the student pick out and recognise the relevant aspects that organize and make sense of the material’ (p.35). Ideally the instructor explains and picks out important features of cases as they come up in the course of learning.

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