Teaching for Understanding


Have you ever struggled with teaching david-perkins-book.jpgdavid-perkins-book.jpgor assessing growth in learners understandings – I do? It’s easier to teach and assess skills. I like the example many people give of coaching a sports team – you teach skills that are observable – clear cut. They can either demonstrate the skill to a certain level or not. If you put in the effort you can learn the skill. This is quite likely one reason I like to coach basketball at school, domestic and representative level. I teach skills as well as offensive and defensive systems and you can see who can do it on the court – during games – its immediate and clear.

Learners understandings about various concepts we teach however are complex, often messy and certainly not that clear cut. I have taken to reading the work of David Perkins from Harvard University Project Zero who really delves into this work to try and get a better picture of how to do this challenging work. Its one of the more significant changes in education today.   

David Perkins wrote an article on teaching for understanding which I distributed to all teachers late in term 1.

The article prompted me to start reading his book: Smart Schools: Better Thinking and Learning for Every Child

His book, which I am still reading, describes how “fragile” knowledge can be if its either: missing, inert [people don’t use what they know], naive or ritual [just part of the school game].  Perkins present lots of information about how people leave school with too fragile knowledge and some poor thinking habits.

Some of his images and quotes really resonate with me:

” schooling minds is much more than schooling memories”

He makes a case against the trivial pursuit theory of schooling – that’s its a matter of accumulating a large repertoire of facts and routines – rather than

“learning is a consequence of thinking”

He argues that its better for students to understand something well rather than cover lots of facts in lots of subjects.

I found his thinking that lots of educators use the ability counts most theory quite unsettling. He argued that in many western countries which includes Australia – success in learning depends on ability more than effort – in contrast to many Asian countries.

I am currently rereading the chapter on working towards a pedagogy of understanding – which at first glance looks to affirm our work on inquiry learning – with the odd challenge or two. I expect a write another post soon on Perkins work particularly around making thinking visible.

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