Friday, June 22, 2012

My Understanding of "Understanding"

I'm taking an online course this summer from Martin Luther College in Curriculum and Instruction in the Middle and Secondary School as a requirement of their post-baccalaureate program to get a K-12 Vocal Music Classroom Minnesota state teaching license. I haven't taken graduate level courses since 1997 when I got my Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University Chicago (then it was called Concordia College, River Forest, IL).  I just finished an assignment to write my definition of the word "understanding".  Since it's not something that I've thought of very much in the past, I thought I'd post my answer here just in case I ever want to find my thoughts again!

"Understanding" is one of those words that we use and think we know the definition for, but when called on to define it, we struggle to put it into empirical words.  Therefore, to define "understanding" I will give examples of what it isn't, followed by examples of what it is (page numbers refer to Understanding by Design, expanded 2nd ed., Ch.2 by Wiggins & McTighe). After listing what it is and isn't, I'll give my own definition, followed by one example to clarify my definition.

Understanding is not:

  • mere knowledge of isolated facts (p. 37)
  • a pattern of information (p. 38)
  • rote memorization, teaching to the test, drilling, or recall of information (p. 40)
  • the mere definition or translation of a word (p. 42)
  • "covering" information
  • being booksmart (p. 52)

Understanding is: 

  • doing something with pieces of knowledge (constructing meaning, synthesizing information) (p. 41)
  • making meaning of facts and transferring knowledge to other problems, tasks, and domains (p. 46)
  • the ability to find patterns in information and to use those patterns to contract meaning from their observation (p. 38)
  • the transfer of knowledge into meaning (p. 44)
  • the ability to decode, read, and authentically and stylistically perform new material (pp. 40-41)
  • an individual's ability to self-assess, self-critique, and self-correct (p. 41)
  • knowing when and how to apply isolated knowledge to solve a problem or answer a question (p. 42)
  • the process of "trying out" solutions to a problem, which may or may not be "correct", and analyzing their effectiveness until a stable solution is gained (p. 46)
  • using knowledge thoughtfully and applying knowledge effectively in diverse settings – that is, to do the subject (p. 48)
  • to apply an abstraction (to perform) in a practical way (p. 49)
  • having "street cred", that is to be smart in real-world solutions (p. 52)

My definition of "understanding" then, would be using knowledge and isolated facts to come up with an overarching conclusion (paradigm) which is irrefutable.  One example of "understanding" I would like to propose is the ability to provide an idiomatic translation of a foreign text into any other language which captures both the spirit and the essence of the original language (from discussion on Bible translations at the Northern WI District Convention, FVLHS, June 12-13, 2012).