Teaching for Understanding: What It Is and How to Do It

Teaching for Understanding: What It Is and How to Do It

Teaching for Understanding: What It Is and How to Do It

Teaching for Understanding: What It Is and How to Do It

Synopsis

At a time when test results can be everything, high scores may be pursued at the expense of understanding. This text describes what understanding means and why it is important, and discusses appropriate conceptions and assessment of learning.

Excerpt

At a time when test results can be everything, high scores may be pursued whatever the cost. Perhaps more often than many would admit, the cost is a lack of understanding. At the same time, some people seem to judge learning only by its quantity: more means better. Today, collecting information is often easy, but understanding it can be what really matters. There are also those who see learning only in terms of its immediate practical utility and how employable it makes the learner. This point of view cannot be dismissed, but learning serves other worthwhile ends as well. It may, for instance, enlighten; but that would only come through understanding. And, as achieving an understanding can sometimes be difficult, it is not surprising that it easily slips into the background.

Many of our daily thoughts and tasks do not call for understanding. For instance, there is no need to understand knots to fasten a shoe lace. Some situations, like fastening shoe laces, repeat themselves and the same response without understanding is effective. But we are often faced with situations that are not like those we have met before. Illness, for instance, varies enormously. How are its symptoms to be interpreted and the illness treated? A kind of knowing that enables a flexible response is what is needed. Knowing what literally under-stands illnesses has the potential to do that. Halford (1993) has put it in broader terms: understanding offers a cognitive autonomy that helps to free its owner from the inflexible act, domination and exploitation. Of course, not all understanding serves a material or immediately practical end. As Luke (1996) has said:

when we understand we can do useful things, like invent things, develop better strategies for business success, and we even feel better. I am richer not poorer in the face of the rising sun for understanding something about how it may have formed, for how it creates the heat and light that enable life.

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