Teacher dial sessions 10/19, 11/19, 4/6

A student who UNDERSTANDS something can…

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A student who UNDERSTANDS something can…

  • Explain it clearly, giving examples
  • Use it
  • Compare and contrast it with other concepts
  • Relate it to other instances in the subject studies, other subjects and personal life experiences
  • Transfer it to unfamiliar settings
  • Discover the concept embedded within a novel problem
  • Combine it appropriately with other understandings
  • Pose new problems that exemplify or embody the concept
  • Create analogies, models, metaphors, symbols, or pictures of the concept
  • Pose and answer “what-if” questions that alter variables in a problematic situation
  • Generate questions and hypotheses that lead to new knowledge and further inquiries
  • Generalize from specifics to form a concept
  • Use the knowledge to appropriately assess his or her performance, or that of someone else.
  • Adopted from Barell, J. (1995) Teaching for thoughtfulness: Classroom Strategies
  • Explanation...

“Uncoverage” of big ideas needed for understandings

  • Point beyond the specific knowledge and skills in a unit to the larger, transferable insights we want students to gain.
  • Provide a skeleton or framework in which students can continue to add specific knowledge, skill, and understanding.
  • Go beyond knowing and doing.
  • Can be K-12 or year long (overarching) or subject and unit topic specific (topical)

Knowledge vs. Understanding

    • An understanding is an unobvious and important inference, a big idea needing “uncoverage” in the unit; knowledge is a set of established “facts”.
    • Understandings make sense of facts, skills, and ideas: they tell us what our knowledge means; they ‘connect the dots’
  • Understandings...
    • Great artists often break with conventions to better express what they see and feel.
    • Price is a function of supply and demand.
    • Friendships can be deepened or undone by hard times
    • History is the story told by the “winners”
    • F = ma (weight is not mass)
    • Might does not make right
    • Math models simplify physical relations – and even sometimes distort relations – to deepen our understanding of them
    • The storyteller rarely tells the meaning of the story

Some questions for identifying truly “big ideas”

    • Does it have many layers and nuances, not obvious to the naïve or inexperienced person?
    • Do you have to dig deep to really understand its meanings and implications even if you have a surface grasp of it?
    • Is it (therefore) prone to misunderstanding as well as disagreement?
    • Does it yield optimal depth and breadth of insight into the subject?
    • Does it reflect the core ideas as judged by experts?
  • Writing Understandings
  • Begin with the stem “Students will understand that…”
  • Explain the “why or so what” about the understanding.
  • Are not just truisms are statements of facts by definition (e.g., triangles have three sides)
  • Do not use the phrase, “Students will understand how to…” this would be a skill.
  • Hints for Writing Essential Understandings
  • Essential understandings synthesize ideas to show an important relationship, usually by combining two or more concepts.
  • For example:
  • People’s perspectives influence their behavior.
  • Time, location, and events shape cultural beliefs and practices.
  • Tips:
  • When writing essential understandings, verbs should be active and in the present tense to ensure that the statement is timeless.
  • Don’t use personal nouns- they cause essential understanding to become too specific, and it may become a fact.
  • Make certain that an essential understanding reflects a relationship of two or more concepts.
  • Write essential understandings a complete sentences.
  • Ask the question: What are the bigger ideas that transfer to other situations.


  • Some concepts
  • span across several subject areas
  • represent significant ideas, phenomena,intellectual process, or persistent problems
  • Are timeless
  • Can be represented though different examples, with all examples having the same attributes
  • And universal
  • For example, the concepts of patterns, interdependence, symmetry, system and power can be examined in a variety of subjects or even serve as concepts for a unit that integrates several subjects.
  • Sample Large Understandings
  • Overarching (large in scope) Understandings highlight the recurring & transferable ‘big’ ideas in a subject
    • English: Constant reflection on audience and purpose is key to effective writing and speaking
    • Math: Much of math involves a modeling cycle:
      • using abstractions to represent things,
      • manipulating the abstractions via logical rules,
      • checking how well results match the original thing (from AAAS Science Literacy Atlas)
  • Samples Understandings in History
  • Overarching (for year or program) from a Standard
  • SWUT civilizations leave legacies to help us understand our past and create our present and future.
  • Topical (Unit on Greek Civilization) From a Benchmark or grade level expectation
  • SWUT that the Greek contribution to the arts including architecture continue to influence artists and architects throughout western civilization.
  • SWUT that the Greek form of a republican government became a factor in creating democracies throughout the world.

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