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.

E.g. “Good essay writing” is composed of persuasive, organized and clear writing. All three criteria need to be met, yet each is different from and somewhat independent of the other two. The writing might be clear but not persuasive.

We truly understand when we can:

–          Explain: provide thorough, supported and justifiable accounts of phenomena, facts, and data

–          Interpret: tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide a revealing historical or personal dimension to idea and events; make it personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies and models

–          Apply: effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse contexts

–          Have perspective: see and hear point of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture

–          Empathize: find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience

–          Have self-knowledge: perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede our understanding; we are aware of what we o not understand and why understanding is so hard.”

The 6 Facets of Understanding

4 Responses to “The Six Facets of Understanding (4)”

  1. Christine,
    I found your reflection of the 6 facets of understanding to be a great reminder. It seems that it reinforces our conversation about summer learning as well. If students truly understood all they had learned the previous year it will not be lost. It also holds to your point that summer needs to give students time to discover new ideas and create their own understandings.

    I always appreciate your thoughtful quest to stay focused on what truly matters. Like you, I think there is something to be gained from reading a book and being able to dig deeply into what the author wants us to know. However, I also enjoy reading the reflections and thoughts of bloggers who always help me to see something from a new perspective. Your point, “Blogs…[have]….too much personal input, beliefs, values, cultural context,” is well taken. Though it is something we should always be aware of, it may also be part of the power in the ongoing blogging conversations and creating greater understanding of our world.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about,

    • Dear Cathy,

      Thank you for such a long response.
      As far as reading blogs is concerned I emphasize that “at times” (not always) they become too context focused.
      It is the paradox of blogging: blogs both enrich (through the difference of perspectives, contexts) and impede our understanding of the teaching. process.

  2. One example is teachers in the US. I teach in an inquiry-driven setting, with a concept-focused curriculum. Thus, standardized testing, inflation of grades and many other elements that characterize American education are far from my radar of interest – I do empathize, but I cannot act upon any, nor use in my own teaching.


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