Understanding vs Learning with UbD

After reading the first couple chapters of our text:

We were asked to watch this video and comment on what the difference is between learning and understanding. Certainly this is one of the founding principles that Understanding by Desgin(UbD) is founded on.

Teaching for Understanding (Harvard GSE) from Furnace Media: Education on Vimeo.

Here is my thinking on learning vs understanding:

For me, learning is picking up tidbits of facts, skills, and other knowledge. Learning is knowing trivia. Understanding is being able to put those bits together to make or do something on a bigger scale. To put it in the frame of sports. Learning would be like acquiring the skill to catch a baseball, to throw where you intend, and to hit the ball when you are batting. Understanding would be putting those skills together to actually complete and possibly win a game.

I am sad to say that I feel like so much of what I am doing currently falls into the ranks of learning. At my current academy position(private English academy in South Korea), there is a big push to memorize words. We have a storybook class and the only test that is given is for words. I see kids sitting around reading words over and over again to try and get them into their short-term memory for a test. Then the next day they are forgotten. While it is important to understand the meaning of words, for many kids this really leaves them clueless when we sit down to talk about the story itself. Sure they know words but perhaps are not sure what parts of the story are important. They have no idea how to dissect this alien text and they have no roadmap.

I actually was taking the reading course from this grad program (READ 884: Literacy Development) last semester, so I got a ton of good ideas from that text(Literacy in the Early Grades, Gail E. Tompkins). Basically the text really emphasizes teaching skills to empower learners to think and do on their own with regards to literacy. I feel like UbD is similar. In the most recent video the older gentleman talks about teaching for the unknown. By teaching skills that can be applied dynamically, the unknown can be easier to deal with.

Using the text from READ884, I began to focus more on teaching the structure of stories(characters(somebody),character goals(wanted),problem(but),solution(so)). I had covered characters and things like this before but I stepped it up a notch. I wanted to try to give students a framework that they could use for any story. To be honest, I am not sure if I got the end results I really wanted but there were some improvements here and there. The biggest issue with where I work is constantly battling the curriculum the school throws at you and then it is damage control to make it work. I just didn’t have enough time to see my experiment full circle. Without getting into too much of that, I will say I think it was a step in the right direction. This to me would be an understanding activity. My intent was to teach the basic parts that all stories have so that students could sit down with an unfamiliar story and at least be able to pick it apart on their own. For frame of reference, I was teaching elementary kids this reading class.

Again I don’t want to beat this drum but issues with the school’s direction and my own were a conflict. What did they do? Right about the time I got this bright idea to empower kids with skills, they changed the curriculum. Now I am teaching a reading course but they want vastly different things to happen. Also, the text is super crazy hard for my students’ level. Ughhh…. Sigh…. (Ranting under breath to myself…) Therefore, I am left to revamp my goals once again.

If I could have had some more time to work with the kids, this new exercise might have yielded some results. Summarizing a story is as abstract as some of the examples from the book, like applying the Pythagorean Theorem to a story problem. You need to be able to identify key points and reflect. What good are words if you can’t organize them thoughtfully?

I feel that learning moves into understanding when the student actually searches around in their brain and finally sees the tools they have, realizes their value in the current situation, and can apply that effectively or even ineffectively to the situation at hand!

Without those connections, students could be just learning words with no reference for a test, only to immediately forget them the next day after the test is over. As I stated this is the approach of my academy. The text talks about it a bit. They mention something about trying various activities and hoping something sticks. I feel like true understanding can be gained through a few random things sticking but wouldn’t it be so much more efficient if we weren’t relying on random chance. Why are we hoping and wishing?(paraphrasing the book) That is what UbD promises from the text and that is what I hope to gain from this course. Hopefully, I can give more direction to my lessons and teach skills my students will be able to reapply in the future.

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