Teaching for Understanding

In a previous post and a series of posts, I have talked about David Perkins’ book – Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education.  One activity he describes in his book is to ask teachers he works with the following three questions:


  1. What is one thing that you understand well?
  2. How did you come to understand it well?
  3. How do you know that you understand it well?

Well, I decided to use these questions for an activity with my graduate students at Franciscan University and the results were very powerful.  The answers to the first question were quite varied; from cooking to breastfeeding to basketball.  However, the answers to the remaining two questions were very similar – similar enough to provide some powerful observations from the students about what it means to understand and how we can teach for understanding.

I will post a link to the table I used to aggregate their responses below and then post the most recent section’s observations that they recorded in a class wiki.

Class Responses for Understanding Activity

Below are the student observations on the table in the link above

Student 1 – I think it’s really amazing at the consistency across the comments.    We found something that we were interested in; we learned how to do it by observing and researching information about it; we became better at it by repetition and training.   If we translate that into the classroom..we need to spark an interest in our students.  Then we need to guide them with information about the subject as well as let them do their own research.  We also need to let them share what they have learned with each other and outside the classroom.   With these practices, students are engaged and learning.  The hard part is, what do we do to spark their interest in subjects that don’t engage them?


Student 2 – Everyone wrote about something that you can tell they are passionate about. Their passion for the activity drove them to learn everything they could to be better at it. It would be wonderful to find a way to make students passionate about what they are learning in the classroom. The key would be to find a way to spark their interest so that they have that drive to find all of the information possible about it.  As teachers we need to make our lessons as engaging as possible to hopefully spark student interest so that they want to learn more.


Student 3 – The pattern I noticed is very similar to what Laura and Shannon have already stated.  It seems that everyone chose to explain their understanding of something they were interested in and had a lot of experience doing.  Then we were able to tell how we understood it because we have spent plenty of time practicing, performing, or studying that task/activity.  Finally, we were able to provide examples of the success we have had developing our skills.  An activity like this could be a powerful teaching tool to use in the classroom because it could be used to help students make a connection between the material they are learning and something they are interested in.  It would be advantageous because it would keep their attention and actively engaged in the lesson.


Student 4 – I find interesting that out of 8 students, half of us find that we understand a sport or a form of fitness. We have long distance running, swimming, cheering and basketball. They’ve all been in their sport for many years, starting at a young age, and still enjoy the sport today! In regards to teaching, I feel like each person knows their sport enough to actually teach it. Some actually do. Especially with childhood obesity being so high…maybe we should consider adding physical fitness to Pa Cyber somehow. We just assume that students are doing their PE hours, but technically we are just going by what the family tells us.


Student 5 – The thing that popped out to me is that for the “how or why” each student understood their topic section, nearly everyone included something about repetition.  Most of the posts were something that each individual has done their whole lives, or at least since a very young age, and they can tell you about without even thinking twice about it.  Its just like your job, you become good and understand something that you do everyday, just like these hobbies that were posted.


Student 6 –  I observed that each one of us wrote about something that we enjoy something that sparked our attention so much that we all worked to master the skill. I think that says something about teaching our students, we need to spark their interests when teaching so that they will be inspired to learn the new knowledge. I also noticed that there were a few people that said they know they understand well because they were able to teach others the skill. Maybe we should have our students peer tutor or help to “teach” others to help them to master the skill.


Student 7 – Let me try to further aggregate our responses, while drawing some conclusions and making some extensions.  If applied to students, we would recommend: (1) Find a strong interest and commit to learning whatever you can in that area.  Do you know what your ultimate goal is? (2) Have a role model, mentor, or coach to rely on, or at least a reliable source of information.  (3) Practice regularly, focusing on one or two skills at a time, getting feedback.  (4) Have somebody that you can trust to tell you if you are on track towards your goals.  Tim observed that for most people, this process was over a lifetime.  However, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, demonstrates that 10,000 hours of experience is what is required to be a true expert.  This would be 5 years on the job or 10 years of half-time commitment (20 hours per week).  Students who start at age 5 have a definite advantage over those who start at age 10 or 15, but nevertheless, students can acquire the experience over time.  Finally, I want to comment on LaTaya’s observation about sports being the dominant interest.  That observation is exactly why I’m such a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.  What students explore during school may or may not become their lifelong career.  Nevertheless, pursuing one’s passion—which often involves a sport or the arts—opens individuals up to a lifelong commitment toward learning.

I really enjoyed reading their observations.  Thanks to all who participated.  

Jackie Gerstein’s Full Picture of the Flipped Classroom Model.

Gerstein's Flipped Classroom ModelIf you are not familiar with Jackie Gerstein’s work (which I wasn’t until recently) you have to check out this link.  She has some really interesting stuff.

Flipping the classroom is becoming a phenomenon.  I know this because teachers in schools I work with are starting to talk about it.  And it is not just the early-adopter types, the teachers I hear discussing this are your seasoned veterans in many cases.  The thing I worry about is what will they do with the class time they have flipped?  Jackie’s piece at the link above discusses the importance of figuring this out.

Folks who provide professional development to teachers around the role technology has to play in education will need to emphasize the importance of having answers to the question of “what do we do now with this void in-class time?”

This is where it will be important to move teachers from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered, constructivist approach.  That is just my $.02 but out working in schools, I see the need for this paradigm shift.

Start-ups Bill in Flipping the Classroom

I don’t know if you heard but the Jump Start our Business Startups or JOBS Act passed Congress.

There is a good piece on it at EdWeek here.  Check it out – it is basically going to make it easier for start-ups to get funding through “crowd-funding” and other methods.

I can see the writing on the wall that there will be ed-based start-ups who will be focused on flipping the classroom.  I know there are a lot of companies out there right now who will sell you courses and platforms for virtual instruction.  There is a research base out there (see this publication) that indicate developing your own courses in K-12 is more cost-effective than purchasing.  The flip side of this is that developing your own courses is time-intensive and not for the technologically faint of heart.

This will be the question that many districts will be asking themselves in the near future – I think the answer (as many answers in education do) will depend on the context of the school and/or district.


Disrupting Class – Chapter 5

This post is part of a series where I am posting my notes as I read Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn & Curtis Johnson.  1

The System for Student-Centric Learning

Disruption is often a two-stage process:

  1. Innovator make s a product much more affordable and simpler to use that what currently exists – making the product is still complicated and expensive.  The correlation for education is that rich and robust computer-based learning products are expensive to build.
  2. Additional technological change in the industry, modular design, makes it simple and inexpensive to build and upgrade the products.

Stage 2 is happening in education right now – Christensen says that adoption decisions at this stage will be dispersed and occur on a decentralized, just in time basis.  This type of implementation will proceed in this decentralized way that will not require the central bodies of authority.

The entire system for creating education materials, making the decisions about which materials to adopt, and delivering the content to students must and will change. (Christensen, p. 125)

Right now in Ohio we are seeing districts struggle with how to proceed into the digital learning world.  Each district seems to see their own solution to this puzzle and perhaps maybe it does require a separate solution for each puzzle.

Meanwhile, this is frustrating for those who would like to build consortia and for those who will be charged with coordinating and providing professional development for blended or online learning.  While some aspects of training teachers to teach digitally are universal – there are others that are platform specific so the multitude of platforms in an ESC’s service area for instance will create a challenge for Education Service Centers who would like to provide training for teachers interested in delivering blended or online instruction.