Saturday, August 6, 2011

Understanding Understanding: Understanding by Design Series # 2

    Today's UbD series will focus on how to ensure understanding occurs through UbD. This is based on chapter 4 of the UbD book.

  feet   The book defines understanding this way: "Understanding is thus not more than mere knowledge of facts but inference about why and how, with specific evidence and logic-insightful connections and illustrations." Certainly, what we want our students to obtain throughout a unit is a deep understanding is the big idea. If we can agree that there are different depths of understanding (and certainly there are. Student A might be able to list facts about subject X, while Student B can give us insight about why or how these facts are useful, or not, a clear example of two different levels of understanding) , then the argument becomes clearer for why we must ensure that students reach the deepest levels of understanding to fully "understand" the big idea. This is where the six facets of understanding come in. Each facet brings us one level deeper into understanding that big idea. Assessment and lessons are shaped by the six-facets of understanding.

Facet 1: Explanation: "Sophisticated and apt theories and illustrations, which provide knowledgeable and justified accounts of events, actions, and ideas".  This facet calls for us to design units around "questions, issues, and problems that demand student theories and explanations". Assessment in this area should require that students provide their own explanation (assessments such as performance tasks, projects, prompts, and traditional tests).

Facet 2: Interpretation: "interpretations, narratives, and translations that provide meaning". Questions in your unit in facet two should be prompted so students explore "why does it matter? What does it mean? What of it? What does it illustrate or illuminate in human experience? How does it relate to me? What makes sense?" As you can see, each facet propels students into a deeper understanding of the big idea.

     Here is an example of interpretation: "A college freshman shows how Gulliver's Travels can be read as a satire on British intellectual life; it's not just a fairy tale."

     As the book explains, the understanding at this level is demonstrated when students "shed interesting and significant light on current or past experiences." Students in this facet should be interpreting ambiguous texts, not just giving right or wrong answers (in this facet, right or wrong is much more difficult to determine, but assessment and feedback is just as important, especially because students will not necessarily have an extensive amount of prior experience in interpretation, and bringing in their own perspectives).
    Some examples of assignments that will help students begin to build interpretations are: "fashion an oral history out of disparate interviews, to develop a mathematical conclusion out of sloppy data, or to create an artistic interpretation subject to peer review, based on careful reading."

Facet 3: Application: "ability to use knowledge effectively in new situations and diverse, realistic contexts." This is what the student might contemplate at this facet: "How and where can we use this knowledge, skill, or process? How should my thinking and action be modified to meet the demands of the particular situation?"

     Here is an example of a project in this facet: "Seventh grade students use their knowledge of statistics to accurately project next year's costs and needs for the student-run candy and supply store."

     The application facet requires that students apply knowledge and understanding in a different context than where they initially developed that knowledge and understanding. If that sounds confusing, allow me to explain. We are not teaching are students so they can merely regurgitate facts to us and do well on exams. Remember, our assessments exist so we can measure their depth of understanding, but those assessments are not our end goal. Our goal is to create such a level of understanding that they can apply and transfer that learning into other areas of their life. What good does it do to learn to analyze texts in English class if I can't later use that analytical skill with other texts, outside of English class and outside of school? The whole point of developing understanding is to be able to transfer it over into other areas. Even Bloom could have told you that, and actually he does, in form of a quote, on pg. 93 of the UbD book.

   The assessments in this facet should be based on real-world problems, with an "emphasis on performance-based learning".

Facet 4: Perspective: "critical and insightful view points."  Here are the questions that are pondered in this facet: "From whose point of view? From which vantage point? What is assumed or tacit that needs to be made explicit and considered? What is justified or warranted? Is there adequate evidence? Is it reasonable? What are the strengths and weaknesses of an idea? Is it plausible? What are its limits? So what?"

    Here is an example of perspective: "A 10-year-old girl recognizes in TV advertising the fallacy of using popular figures to promote products."

    In this facet, students can see from different perspectives and views. The point of view is not the students point of view, necessarily, but the student can see through the lens of another, or in a different way. In other words, through opposing theories, ideas, and view points. This broadens the student's own depth of understanding of that particular big idea, which isn't black and white.

Facet 5: Empathy: "the ability to get inside another person's feelings and worldview."  Here is what students will ponder in this facet: "How does it seem to you?What do they see that I don't? What do I need to experience if I am to understand? What was the writer, artist, or performer feeling, thinking, seeing, and trying to make me feel and see?"

    Now, empathy and perspective might seem similar, but they are actually different. Perspective gets the students to see from a "critical distance", where emotion is not part of their view. Empathy, however, asks students to really put themselves in another's shoes, so emotion is very much part of the experience. Sometimes, when we look at things by putting ourselves in another's shoes, we begin to see and understand it differently. A student's own understanding can grow and change by looking at things empathetically.

Facet 6: Self-Knowledge: "the wisdom to know one's ignorance and how one's patterns of thought and action inform as well as prejudice understanding". Metacognition isa big part of this facet, and requires a lot of reflecting from the student. In this facet, students question, "How does who I am shape my views? What are the limits of my understanding? What are my blind spots? What am I prone to misunderstand because of prejudice, habit or style?" This facet requires that we give students ample time throughout the unit to self-reflect and self-assess. Why is that important? Through self-reflection, students are given time to adjust their own thinking and ideas, just like what we do as teachers. My own self-reflection time is when I come up with my greatest ideas, and when I realize and recognize that certain things are not working and need to be changed. The same is true for our students and their own learning.

I hope you enjoyed the second part of the UbD series. Part 3 will soon follow. KeishaScooterBike

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