Teaching for Understanding….it’s not just what you know but how you can apply it.

from HowardGardner.com

I had the opportunity to listen to Howard Gardner last week.  It reminded me of the time I have been able to sit in with other speakers high up in the educational research chain.  There is a humbleness…at least I think so…usually in their demeanor and thought.  Very rarely do they seem to think there is one right answer, but yet ask their audience to consider the possibility of multiple solutions depending…it depends.  Yet… there is a core of thought that guides them.

And so it was with Howard.

The man who researched and presented the multiple intelligences had insight into how to improve our educational system here in the US…something he is not seeing even with students entering Harvard’s Post Graduate education programs.  We need to teach students how to understand what they have learned.  We need to ‘teach for understanding’….not teach for fact or definition recall…but true understanding.

Students must be able to use what they know in different, unexpected settings.  They should be able to apply their learning and…I would argue… synthesis their understanding by taking materials and creating their own view or voice.

Is this new?  No.  However, I didn’t get exposed to this until I started my postgraduate courses within my English university…where my teachers first said my work sounded like “a lady’s home journal”.  Or as another professor declared American writing in general,  in a conference I attended, “American rubbish writers.”

Does it show a weakness in our American educational system?  Are we so far removed from this higher level of thinking it will be difficult to attain?

I think not.  The very student who first submitted ‘rubbish’ went on to achieve a “Distinguished” diploma for her post graduate work!  I was able to use my insight on teaching 4th grade students the FCAT…reviewing the standards and the rubrics for scoring and and link them to developing a process to understand the English educational writing standards.  The very system that created a ‘rubbish writier’ gave me the tools to use my previous learning and experiences to improve the quality of my work within new standards and expectations. I will say…it WAS SO HARD! lol  Truly difficult…mind intensive..the amount of thought.

Please don’t think I’m damaged by my professors’ comments.  I can truly say they were all said in earnest and with the sole intention of helping me to improve.  The conference ‘rubbish writer’ was exclaimed had a sole purpose of brainstorming how to improve international student writing to meet the standards.  They wanted to communicate their expectations in ways to help students meet them.

So now… I need to take my learning and experiences and apply it to my own students.  To teach them how to learn to understand.  I think we are ready for the challenge and up for the quality of work.  The questions will be…how will they feel?  Will it feel like a stretch or so alien and unattainable?  Will they even want to try?  Will they take responsibility?

We’ll see…


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