Archive for ‘design’

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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April 5, 2013

Understanding Understanding (3)

The third chapter of Understanding by Design is one of the most provocative as it focuses on the very definition and range of meanings of the word “understanding”. It is a rather nebulous term and many educators use it to convey different ways of “understanding”. So what does  mean? Does it mean to internalize knowledge? To grasp the core essence? To be able to make connections later on?

(Gardner, 1991) “The test of understanding involves neither repetition of information learned nor performance of practices mastered. Rather it involves the appropriate application of concepts and principles to questions/problems that are newly posed.

The book’s authors stress the importance of clarifying this term not for the sake of semantics but because conceptual clarity is important. What is interesting about “understanding” as they define it is that it is different from knowledge (regardless of how vast it is) AND performance.

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April 2, 2013

Essential Questions (2)

*As mentioned in my previous post, I am reading Understanding by Design and will post the most interesting bits here as a way to remember and reflect.*

“In the absence of overarching questions, students are left with rhetorical questions in a march through coverage or activities.

Questions not only focus learning, they also make all subject-knowledge possible. If students are to understand what is known, they need to simulate or recreate some of the inquiry by which the knowledge was created. Such an approach is, after all, how the pioneer came to understand the unknown: asking questions and testing ideas.

i.e. Why is it true that a triangle always has 180 degrees? How can we know for sure?

Types of questions (examples):

  1. Essential question: Must a story have a moral, heroes and villains?
  2. Unit question: Is Huck Finn a hero?
  3. *Entry-point questions for understanding

*Learners need concrete and meaningful experiences, problems, applications, and shifts of perspective to enable an important question to arise. Plunking a big idea at the beginning of a unit may not always stimulate student inquiry because typically the student does not know enough or care enough about the issues involved to see the need or value in addressing such question.

i.e. abstract discussion on property rights —is made accessible and intriguing by using the saying “Finders keepers, losers weepers” and building role-play around the idea.

Giving the answer straight away bypasses inquiry and deep understanding. “

April 1, 2013

Expert-Novice Gap (1)

This is the title of one interesting chapter in G. Wiggins’ and J. McTighe’s book Understanding by Design that had me thinking (like all chapters, but I will post as  read).

“Our work as designers is complicated by the gap between expert and novice. What we as adults understand and appreciate seems of self-evident value and interest. But to the student the same idea can seem opaque, abstract- without meaning or value.

(Thus)… in addition to knowing our subject we need to know the students – know what will need uncoverage from THEIR point of view. “

I won’t elaborate much but I think it is one of the most difficult tasks we have as teachers. The very breadth (and presumably depth) of our knowledge can act as a barrier to understanding the struggle a student might experience or the lack of interest some students show. It is challenging to assume what might trigger curiosity, to anticipate what might be too complex or confusing to a wide range of learners, and to set all this against curricular requirements.