Learning for Understanding, Alignment & Insight Into One’s Own Learning

Although there are a lot of interesting things to think about in this week’s readings, I found two specific points jumped out at me the most.

Since I’d just been thinking about last week’s class and ideas of alignment, I found the major idea behind Put Understanding First” by Wiggins & McTighe very relevant/timely. They stated that

 common methods of teaching and testing in high schools focus on acquisition at the expense of meaning and transfer

…which seems extraordinarily true. The article went on to talk about this fundamental mis-alignment between teaching and assessment methods (which focus more on acquisition) and just what the overall mission of high schools should be:

not to cover content, but rather to help learners become thoughtful about, and productive with, content. It’s not to help students get good at school, but rather to prepare them for the world beyond school—to enable them to apply what they have learned to issues and problems they will face in the future

…this is what they refer to as learning for understanding. They propose a specific framework by which teachers can design their lessons to better facilitate meaning and transfer as well as acquisition (curious? Head to the article, here.) This way to view a pretty fundamental misalignment seems helpful to me. Although they think about it in the context of high school, it feels to me like it’s likely relevant in all sorts of circumstances. Without the ability to make meaning of what one is learning, attach it to some sort of context or prior knowledge, and then to make use of that information through transfer, how the heck could we expect anyone — a formal student or otherwise, to really understand the value or learning something and be motivated to retain and use that knowledge?

The other point that jumped out at me was from a specific passage in Chapter 3 of How People Learn.

In order for learners to gain insight into their learning and their understanding, frequent feedback is critical: students need to monitor their learning and actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels of understanding.

This type of feedback and the ability it gives me (or anyone) to self-assess, correct, and better understand my own learning seems to be precisely one of the potential benefits that I was trying to get at in my recent post on what I see as “learning in public.”

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One thought on “Learning for Understanding, Alignment & Insight Into One’s Own Learning

  1. I related a lot to that passage on acquisition of content vs. transfer of learning. It’s funny: I feel like in high school, I had an excellent memory. I could memorize and recall tons of information for the purposes of school, but I don’t think I retained much. For instance, in my high school biology class, I distinctly remember having to memorize all the bones of the skull, the hands, and the feet. I remember some of the names of those bones, but not always where they are exactly located. Today, my recall is terrible by comparison, but I feel like I had a more contextual education in college through deep reading and discussion, and my ideas are more easily transferable. I can see connections to past things I’ve learned. It makes me wonder how much my habits of mind have been shaped by my educational experiences of both kinds.

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