Information For:

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Professional Education

Teaching for Understanding: Educating for the Unknown

Teaching for Understanding online course page

Course Outline

In this course, you will learn to use the Teaching for Understanding framework as a tool for shaping curriculum and classroom experiences that help students develop this kind of robust and transferable understanding.

In each two-week session participants will:

  • Explore new ideas through readings and multimedia
  • Interact with local and online peers
  • Enact classroom tryouts
  • Reflect on course ideas
  • Share experiences, student work, and other artifacts, while developing a course project
Session 1 (Orientation)

Session 1: Orientation

In this session, you will become acquainted with the course site and the role of instructors, coaches, and learners in this course. You will meet your fellow course participants and learn about each other’s goals for the course, their backgrounds and work contexts and prepare for the six two-week content sessions. Please note that this session is only one week long. (Sessions 2 through 7 are each two weeks long.)

The goals of this session are to help you:

  • Develop an understanding of the overarching goals for this course and also reflect on your personal learning goals.
  • Learn about the course platform, the schedule, and the structure of sessions and assignments.
  • Become acquainted with the course instructors, coaches, and fellow participants, and learn about the roles they will play in supporting your learning.
  • Develop an understanding of your own role within this course, including the things you can do to support your own learning in this online context as well as the ways you will be supporting the learning of your fellow participants.
Session 2

Session 2: Beyond the Safe Harbor: Educating for the Unknown

We begin by considering the fundamental purposes of education. Most of us want to prepare our students for their lives beyond school, but that future is unpredictable. Preparing our students for this unknown future means that we need to move beyond simply conveying information, skills, and concepts to students: Students need to understand how to use information, skills, and
concepts in situations they have never encountered before. In this session, we’ll consider what it means to understand something and begin exploring how understanding develops. 

In this session, you will:

  • Read parts of Future Wise and The Teaching for Understanding Guide.
  • Reflect on your personal experiences with understanding, as we consider how understanding develops.
  • Gain an overview of the Teaching for Understanding Framework, a tool for designing and refining learning experiences that nurture students' understanding.
  • With your team, choose the project that you want to focus on for the remainder of this course.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • What is understanding, and why should it be an important goal of education today?
  • If understanding is the goal, what should we be teaching? That is, what things are most important for students to understand?
  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • How can we create a reflective online professional community that supports our own understanding of how to teach and learn for understanding?
Session 3

Session 3: Seas Worth Sailing: Deciding What to Teach

In our work this session, we focus on the “what” of teaching: What is most important for our students to be learning, and why? In many educational settings, “content coverage” is the main goal. But when we shift our focus, looking beyond the test to the kinds of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students will need to navigate an unpredictable future, it becomes clear that not all of that content is equally valuable. In this session, we will examine criteria for helping determine what is truly worth spending time on. 

In this session, you will:

  • Read selections from Future Wise and The Teaching for Understanding Guide.
  • Get to know two elements of the Teaching for Understanding Framework: “generative topics” and “performances of understanding.”
  • With your team, take the first steps in developing your team project.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • If understanding is the goal, what should we be teaching? That is, what things are most important for students to understand?
  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding? In particular, what role do Generative Topics and Understanding Goals play in shaping learning experiences that support student understanding?
Session 4

Session 4: Revealing the Wind Behind the Wave: Going Beyond “Hands-On” Activities

If we want students to understand important skills and concepts deeply, then we need to help them engage actively with those skills and concepts. But simply getting students active isn’t enough: these activities need to give students the opportunity to make their learning and thinking visible as they work to use what they know in new contexts. In this session, we’ll focus on criteria for designing and refining these kinds of activities — called “performances of understanding” in the Teaching for Understanding Framework. 

In this session, you will:

  • Read portions of both Future Wise and The Teaching for Understanding Guide.
  • Reflect on your current practice — both what you already do to support student understanding and what else you might be doing.
  • Meet with your team and take the next steps in your team projects.
  • Offer one another feedback on those team projects as they enter their next stage.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • In particular, what role do performances of understanding play in supporting student learning, and how can we develop effective performances of understanding in the context of our day-to-day practice?
Session 5

Session 5: Taking a Compass Bearing and Making Course Corrections: Turning Assessment into a Learning Opportunity

In this session, we will focus on assessment practices that not only help us to see where our students are in relation to the central goals but also help students deepen their understanding of those goals. In the Teaching for Understanding framework, this process of assessment is called “ongoing assessment.”  

In this session you will:

  • Read about Ongoing Assessment in The Teaching for Understanding Guide.
  • Watch several videos showing teachers and students engaged in different aspects of the ongoing assessment process.
  • Reflect on your own use of ongoing assessment in your teaching.
  • Consider ongoing assessment as an element in your course projects.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • In particular, what role does the ongoing assessment process play in supporting student learning, and what are some effective strategies for carrying it out in day-to-day practice?
Session 6

Session 6: “Here Be Dragons”: Navigating the Challenges of Teaching and Learning for Understanding

Teaching for understanding makes our work as educators more effective, but it doesn’t
necessarily make our work easier. In this session, we will address some common challenges that emerge, particularly when one is making a shift from a “content coverage” focus to an “understanding” focus. 

In this session you will:

  • Review readings from the course, with a focus on identifying challenges (both those stated in the reading and those that you’re experiencing in your work).
  • Meet with your team both to discuss challenges and to do the final revisions/compilations of your course projects.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • What are some of the challenges and dilemmas that we face when we try to teach for understanding and what are some ways we might address them?
Session 7

Session 7: The Voyage Continues: Charting A Course Beyond This Course

In this session, we will be looking back AND looking forward:

Looking back, you will return to Session 6 in order to read the final posted projects of your Study Group colleagues. This is the *only* reading that you will have this week — I wanted to make sure that you had the time to do it carefully. You will also be posting a response to at least two of those projects.

Looking ahead, several assignments ask you to reflect on what you have learned during this online course and to map out one or two specific ways to continue using “teaching for understanding” ideas and strategies in the near future.

In this session we’ll be working toward the following goals:

  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • What have we learned from one another about how to do this?
  • What strategic questions, ideas, and action steps are we taking away from this learning experience that will help us continue to support student understanding in the future?