Understanding by Design Case 1# The teacher selects a resource ( To Kill a Mockingbird). The teacher chooses specific instructional methods that the teacher believes are successful. For example, the teacher decides to use cooperative groups to analyze the novel. Finally the teacher decides on assessing the students by having them write a five paragraph essay about a theme in the book . Discuss this case at your table – what are the strengths of the lesson? What are the next steps for this lesson?
Understanding is the ability to marshal skills and facts wisely and appropriately, through effective application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Understanding is about going beyond the information given to create new knowledge and arrive at further understandings.
Understanding is about transfer. The ability to transfer our knowledge and skill effectively involves the capacity to take what we know and use it creatively, flexibly, fluently, in different settings or problems.
Children cannot be said to understand their own answer, even though it is correct, if they can only answer a question phrased just so.
In teaching students for understanding, we must grasp the key idea that we are coaches of their ability to play the game of performing with understanding, not tellers of our understanding to them on the sidelines.
Transfer involves figuring out which knowledge and skill matters here and often adapting what we know to address the challenge at hand.
A student teacher asks students, “ What would you find if you dug a hole in the earth?” There is no response. The student teacher repeats the question and gets the same response. The master teacher interrupts and asks; “What is at the center of the Earth?”
The class replies in unison, “Igneous fusion.”
Analyze the case at your table. What does the example teach us about ‘understanding’ and ‘transferability’?
A teacher assigns a five paragraph essay as an assessment for the novel Catcher in the Rye . In the essay on Catcher in the Rye a student writes the essay comparing it to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Analyze the student response. What does his essay teach us about his understanding of the ‘big ideas’ of the novel?
Big ideas translate into Essential Questions and Understandings
A big idea enables the learner to make sense out of what has come before
Example – Adaptation – is a big idea, “What makes adaptation happen?” is an essential question and can easily be expressed as an essential understanding “Environmental pressure causes adaptation.”
Essential questions allow students to be on the inside of how understandings are born, tested and solidified through inquiry, criticism, and verification. – The curriculum needs to treat students like performers – not like sideline observers.