We take understanding for granted sometimes believing that our point of view is identical to others. We think that everyone thinks like us, but they don’t. They can’t. There are too many variables to adequately judge someone’s understanding.
In schools everywhere, teachers teach for understanding, but what is it really?
Is understanding making sense of information, interpreting information, explaining, discussing, inferring, summarizing, all of these, or something else?
Understanding sounds simple to define and yet many of us seem to have a difference of opinion about the depth of understanding.
A sample standard that serves to guide educators to teach for understanding may be:
“The student will understand the basic types of computation.”
Okay, so we’re talking about addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; right?
Yes, of course.
So, what does “understand” mean in this example?
Does it mean the child will know that these types of computation exist, be able to differentiate between them, be able to use them “efficiently”, understand how they work (or only memorize the facts)? It’s a guessing game as to how deep students will need to understand for standardized testing. But beyond that, what is true understanding?
There are different levels of understanding. Though Bloom chose to add understanding to one of the bottom layers of his taxonomy (meaning it was accessible for most students), doesn’t true understanding involve the highest levels of analysis, synthesis, application, evaluation, and creation? Or, are we talking only about superficial levels of understanding? How much is enough?
What does it take to have an understanding to be a “good parent”? Would your definition differ pre vs. post having children of your own? Now, we’re comparing superficial understandings with deepened understandings. How do we arrive at those deepened understandings? How much understanding is enough? How do you measure true understanding vs. mere memorization and regurgitation? What about the Three Es?
Three Variables in Understanding:
1. Experience– Experience deepens our understandings. Though we can be led to gain knowledge, understanding is built upon experiences. Through trial and error and testing of theories, we come to understand.
2. Existentialism– By relating our understandings to our own contextual and unique self, we deepen our understandings. Though our experiences can help us to gain valuable insights, understandings through our own personal reflections by our own will
use all of the dimensions within ourselves.
3. Enlightenment- Enlightenment or wisdom is the highest form of understanding since it comes through both our experiences and existential selves. Others may guide us, but throughout the process of experiencing and reflection over time, we come to know, to find our true convictions, and truly understand.