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:
- What is one thing that you understand well?
- How did you come to understand it well?
- 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.